This article is the first in a two-part series examining the challenges in achieving true parity for mental health benefits. This article explores the history of mental health parity legislation, while the second installment - scheduled for EBN June 1 - will address barriers to care due to lack of access and provider shortages.

The fight for adequate access to mental health care has been a long one, and arguably the first legislation to help it along was the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act, which required no lifetime or annual dollar limits for mental health benefits that were lower than those for medical benefits. But there was a catch: Insurers were able to impose maximum numbers on provider visits or the number of days they would cover for inpatient hospitalizations.

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