Futures Recovery

Efforts to Improve Mental Health Parity Compliance Continue

In the above video, Futures’ Utilization Director Kathy Piccirilli explains Parity Act and how it impact people’s mental health and substance use disorder insurance benefits.

Continued Improvements for Mental Health Parity Compliance 

More than ten years ago, President George W. Bush signed into law the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, also known as MHPAEA. The legislation, commonly called “federal parity law,” requires most insurers to cover illnesses of the brain, such as depression or substance use disorder (SUD), just like other illnesses of the human body, such as heart disease or cancer.

A decade later, much remains to be done to fully realize parity. “Individuals still go years without care and often do not have access to the full range of effective treatment options,” wrote Caren Howard and Nathaniel Counts on MentalHealthAmerica.net on the tenth anniversary of MHPAEA in October. “Full realization of parity requires more work by informed policymakers, administrators, and consumers to challenge the existing discrimination.”

Not only do many patients with mental health issues not have access to the full range of treatment options, in some cases, insurance companies seem to have found fairly creative ways to negate the mental health parity mandates. In a recent article for Stat, Jack Turban explained how some insurance companies apparently employ “ghost networks” of psychiatrists to impede patients’ access to care by listing incorrect contact information for their in-network providers.

“Maybe insurance companies don’t know their lists are inaccurate. Maybe they do but choose not to do anything about it,” Turban wrote. “A more alarming possibility is that some companies intentionally keep the lists inaccurate to save money by preventing access to mental health care.”

It’s not just the insurance industry, either. Many states have failed to live up to the ambitious goals of MHPAEA as well. Analysis conducted by the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity in 2018, gave 32 states a failing grade for their parity statutes—one of them was Florida. Only one state, Illinois, was awarded a grade better than C!

Florida’s legislature considered an important bill on parity earlier this year. However, Senate Bill 360, designed to help prevent health insurers that provide mental health and addiction coverage in the state from imposing less-favorable benefit limitations than those for other medical conditions, died in committee in May.

The efforts to make mental health parity a reality continue. On the federal level, Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis, who represents Florida’s 12th district has introduced bipartisan legislation to improve health plans’ and insurers’ compliance with mental health parity laws. He was joined by Democrats Donald Norcross (D-NJ) and Katie Porter (D-CA) in introducing this bill.

“While mental health parity is rightfully the law of the land, our enforcement mechanisms are severely lacking and companies aren’t fully complying with the law,” said Norcross, who is vice-chair of the Bipartisan Addiction Task Force.

“As part of removing the stigma for treating mental illness, we must ensure that mental health needs are recognized as legitimate healthcare issues,” said Congressman Bilirakis. “One way to do that is to ensure parity between coverage for healthcare and mental healthcare services—which happens to be the law. For far too long, I have heard patient accounts of some bad insurance actors who are blatantly ignoring the Mental Health Parity law and provide inadequate mental health coverage.”

Hopefully, this initiative will go beyond the committee stage and lead to tangible improvements for patients with mental health issues.