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updated: 11/8/2013 8:01 AM

Mental health coverage expanded to most health plans in U.S.

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Bloomberg

Insurers will be required to cover treatment for mental illness in the same manner they provide care for physical health, as part of new long-awaited rules being released by the U.S. government.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced the regulations at an event today in Atlanta with Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady. The rules, five years in development, mean that insurers won't be able to charge higher co-payments or deductibles for treatment of mental illness or limit the duration of care any more than for treatment of a physical condition.

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The requirements will apply to almost all health plans in the nation including new ones sold under th the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The Obama administration also considers the rules to be a chief component of an effort to reduce gun violence.

"This is the largest expansion of behavioral health coverage in a generation," Sebelius said. "This is a personal toll that we take on as a country to help people achieve the promise of recovery."

The White House included improving mental health services as one of 23 executive actions announced to combat gun violence after 26 children and adults were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December.

Sebelius and President Barack Obama face criticism from Republicans and some in their own party for the faltering debut of the health-care law insurance exchanges. The federal website to sell insurance, healthcare.gov, remains plagued by errors and stalls that prevent many people from signing up.

Obama apologized yesterday in an interview with NBC News to people who have seen their current health plans canceled, as insurers replace them with plans that comply with the new law.

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