Much of the recent focus on healthcare access in Arkansas has been on providing financial access to coverage through insurance affordability programs under federal and state law. The viability of these programs—particularly the Arkansas Health Care Independence Program funded with Medicaid dollars—is dependent on the ability to provide cost-effective care. While health policy organizations, including the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, have noted the potential for access issues related to the primary and specialty care provider workforce following a major coverage expansion, limited attention has been given to access to mental health and substance use disorder services. Access to these services has been bolstered by a series of federal and state laws that require insurance companies to cover mental health and substance use disorder services the same as other medical services (“parity”). However, additional work is needed to ensure equitable access for individuals with these needs as the state invests in expanded coverage, particularly given that failure to ensure access has secondary effects such as increased incarceration and reduced workplace productivity
This issue brief describes federal and Arkansas parity laws, the extension of parity requirements under the Affordable Care Act, and issues concerning access and parity in Arkansas.