Federal officials want Medicaid to beef up access to mental health care for individuals with disabilities and other beneficiaries.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is proposing new regulations that would require Medicaid to cover mental health services at the same level as other medical and surgical services.

The rule would hold Medicaid to the standard established under a federal law requiring mental health parity that was passed in 2008.

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Similar regulations issued in 2013 already require most private health insurance plans to cover mental health services at the same level as physical ailments in accordance with the parity law.

“Improving quality and access to care impacts the health of our nation,” said Vikki Wachino, acting director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services. “All Americans deserve access to quality mental health services.”

Officials with the National Association of Medicaid Directors welcomed the new rule, but warned that it will likely take years to see the full impact.

“Medicaid has quietly become the largest payer of mental health services in the country,” the group said in a statement. “Medicaid directors are hopeful that parity ultimately helps to level the playing field, which would allow more people to get the care they need at the right time, and ultimately reduce future reliance on Medicaid.”

In addition to requiring equal coverage for mental health services, the proposed rule would also mandate that Medicaid programs provide a reason in the event that a beneficiary is denied such treatment.

The rule will be published Friday in the Federal Register and will be open for public comment through June 9.

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