Health plans respond to parity: Managing behavioral health care in the federal employees health benefits program

M. Susan Ridgely, M. Audrey Burnam, Colleen L. Barry, Howard H. Goldman, Kevin D. Hennessy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


The government often uses the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program as a model for both public and private health policy choices. In 2001, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) implemented full parity, requiring that FEHB carriers offer mental health and substance abuse benefits equal to general medical benefits. OPM instructed carriers to alter their benefit design but permitted them to determine whether they would manage care and what structures or processes they would use. This article reports on the experience of 156 carriers and the government-wide BlueCross and BlueShield Service Benefit Plan. Carriers dropped cost-restraining benefit limits. A smaller percentage also changed the management of the benefit, but these changes affected the care of many enrollees, making the overall parity effect noteworthy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-218
Number of pages18
JournalMilbank Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2006



  • Behavioral health
  • Health insurance
  • Managed care
  • Parity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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