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Study measures impact of behavioral health copay law

Nick Youngson

A new, one-of-a-kind law took effect in New Mexico two years ago that did away with behavioral health co-pays for people in certain insurance plans. A new study on the law says results so far are mixed.

Ezra Golberstein, an associate professor of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota, said he hardly believed the No Behavioral Health Cost Sharing Act was real when he first saw it in a newsletter.

“No other state in the country has tried something so ambitious as a way to try to reduce the cost of these services for consumers, and hopefully then to improve access to care,” he said. “So it really just jumped out at me.”

The study he led on the law showed that in the first six months after it went into effect, out-of-pocket costs went down, but it didn’t appear to encourage new people to seek mental health treatment.

“The vast majority of prescriptions are for generic drugs, and generic drugs are already relatively inexpensive for most people,” he said. “So it's maybe not surprising that reducing the cost of zero for those drugs doesn't didn't have a huge effect on the patterns of dispensed medications.”

He said that the study found a slight rise in new prescriptions for more expensive medications.

The law has some limits. It is aimed at insurance one would get through an employer, but many of the state’s largest employers aren’t required to comply with it. That’s because there’s a carve out for “self-funded” insurance, which is what most large companies opt for. But people who have insurance through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace or work for the state are impacted by the law.

Golberstein said New Mexico remains a proving ground for this kind of law, and his team has another research project in the works about this one.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Megan Myscofski is a reporter with KUNM's Poverty and Public Health Project.
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