Senators Want Mental Health Parity Law Enforced

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By Nathaniel Weixel

Oct. 16 — A group of senators is calling on the federal government to fully implement and enforce the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

Led by Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.), 22 senators—including two Republicans and two independents—criticized in an Oct. 15 letter implementation of the law by the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.

Though the law was enacted more than seven years ago, the senators said, parity “is still not a reality for individuals living with mental illness and addiction.”

The senators said that one of the “primary complaints we receive” is that health plans often fail to disclose coverage decision information. Without this information, it's impossible “to determine if the plan is in compliance with the law or if a parity violation has occurred,” they wrote.

“Yet,” the lawmakers said in the letter, “consumers and providers report that plans routinely refuse to give this information or simply refer consumers to a website or provide a general statement that lacks specificity with respect to how criteria are applied to both medical and surgical and behavioral health.”

The law requires most health plans offering benefits for mental health and substance abuse disorders to treat those benefits the same as other medical benefits.

Murphy and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) are the authors of a comprehensive mental health overhaul bill that Congress could take up this fall.

The senators asked the agencies for information about compliance audits, as well if they plan to issue additional parity guidance to health plans and issuers so they can demonstrate compliance with the act.

For more information, see Compensation and Benefits Library’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benefits chapter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nathaniel Weixel in Washington at nweixel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nancy Simmons at nsimmons@bna.com