Few Americans understand what parity means, it seems. Along with the hundreds of rules and regulations in the recent health care reform package, parity was passed. What this means is insurance companies have to cover mental health and substance abuse care , just like they do medical care. In other words, if you have a million dollar limit on your medical coverage, you have a million dollar limit on mental health care, should you need it. According to a recent report, psychologists estimate one quarter of Americans have serious mental health issues yet do not receive the care they need. Children are especially at risk of not getting appropriate care for mental health issues. Parents play a huge role in what kind of care their kids get and when. If parents are not aware of the new "parity" laws, they may not know they have coverage for therapy, or day treatment or residential care. If a teen is struggling with substance abuse, a parent may not realize there are programs that their insurance company will pay for that are available to them. Everyone needs to understand what is included in the health care laws and how that impacts families. The health care insurers are adjusting their plans and benefit packages accordingly. We as consumers of health care need to really take the time to read the coverage limits and exclusions. Most people pay no attention to things they feel they won't need, like mental health coverage. But it is too late to get benefits for a broken bone when you are sitting in the ER. If you had to specify what you wanted in your health plan, chances are you would leave out things you didn't expect to have in order to cut the cost of the policy. In light of recent news regarding mass shootings, soldiers committing suicide and kids being bullied so viciously they also kill themselves, please take the time to understand what parity means. Call your carrier and find out what your mental health benefits are. Be sure your insurer is abiding by the laws of parity. get educated on what the signs of mental health issues are in your kids and your friends. Talk about it at the family table. The coverage is there if we need it, we just have to have the guts to ask for it.