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Addiction and mental health treatment experts say they are hopeful new rules issued by the federal government that require parity between treatment for mental and physical illness will greatly expand access to care. They say a critical component of the rules’ success will be the criteria insurers use to include patients for addiction and mental health coverage.

“This has been anxiously and long awaited,” Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, President of the American Psychiatric Association, told NBC News. “Everything we’ve heard gives us a lot of encouragement. We just hope the rule goes far enough.” He said his organization will carefully review the new regulations, to see how much information insurers will be required to reveal about their coverage criteria, and how the rule will be enforced.

The regulations will apply to almost all forms of insurance. Administration officials say the rules will ensure that health plans’ co-payments, deductibles and limits for visits to health care providers are the same for addiction and mental health services as they are for medical and surgical benefits—referred to as “parity.”

The rules will put into effect the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Under the regulations, a health plan will not be able to restrict patients to in-state substance abuse treatment, while allowing them to go anywhere for medical or surgical treatment.

“What it means for us is that we should see more people coming into the treatment world,” said Cynthia Moreno Tuohy, Executive Director of the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors. “One of the reasons people don’t come into treatment is that they don’t have health care. This takes those barriers away.”

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