mental-healthThe Affordable Care Act was designed to provide health insurance for anyone who needs it, regardless of pre-existing conditions. While that has become the case for millions of American’s previously uninsured, new research suggests that one-fourth of health plans sold on health insurance exchanges appear to offer unequal benefits for mental and physical illnesses, despite a federal “parity” law mandating equal benefits for general medical treatments and mental health care, USA Today reports.

At the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers uncovered that a number of health plans appearing to offer unequal mental health benefits, such as financial disparities like different co-pays or deductibles for mental and physical health services. The study found that many insurance plans had tighter restrictions for prior authorizations from insurers before patients were able to receive mental health treatment, according to the article.

In a news release, the researchers point out those stricter regulations can add lengthy delays for patients who need treatment, said lead author Colleen Barry.

“Our concern was that health plans may have an incentive to avoid enrolling individuals who use mental health services because their care tends to be more costly on average,” Barry said. “This would go against the philosophy of parity, which was to level the playing field. Our study suggests that some plans may still be offering people with mental illness insurance benefits that are less generous than benefits for other medical conditions.”

Over the course of decades, many politicians such as, Patrick Kennedy and the late Ted Kennedy, fought tooth and nail for the Mental Health Parity Act. The need for timely and quality coverage for those suffering from mental health disorders is crucial. If insurance companies are finding ways to supersede the act, countless Americans could suffer needlessly and potentially succumb to their disease – due to lack of treatment.

The research appears in the journal Psychiatric Services.