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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

National Council, AFSP Release Consumer Parity Guides

September 11, 2014 | Parity | Comments
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At a congressional briefing to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, the National Council and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention released a series of tools to help consumers navigate insurance coverage and understand their rights under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

Speaking to a room full of congressional staff and behavioral health advocates, panelists at the briefing discussed the importance of consumer education in realizing the promise of parity. The new National Council/AFSP consumer parity guides provide information on selecting an insurance plan and advice on how to assess whether a plan will meet enrollees’ mental health and substance use needs. They also offer a reader-friendly overview of consumers’ rights under parity – and what do to if an enrollee suspects their insurance plan is not in compliance with the law.

Enacted in 2008 and expanded to cover new types of plans in 2010, the parity law prohibits insurance companies from imposing discriminatory coverage restrictions on mental health and substance use benefits. If restrictions such as copayments or treatment caps are applied to behavioral healthcare, they must be comparable in scope to those applied to medical/surgical benefits.

Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) opened the briefing with a discussion of suicide’s toll in the U.S., noting that more Americans will die by suicide this year than in car accidents. Murphy is the author of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 3717), a bill that would enact comprehensive reforms to the nation’s mental health system, including by reauthorizing the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which funds suicide prevention activities.

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a longtime champion of parity, urged attendees to consider the disproportionate burden of suicide on members of the armed forces, many of whom return from duty with conditions such as PTSD or traumatic brain injuries that increase their risk of suicide. “Now is our time” to take action on behalf of these veterans, he said. “It is the next frontier of healthcare to include the mind, to include the whole person – and existing parity law can help.”

Chuck Ingoglia, Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Practice Improvement at the National Council pointed out that realizing parity’s promise requires consumers to be informed about the law. “Access to behavioral healthcare is only partly about your rights on paper – it’s also about being aware of those rights, knowing that you have a recourse to appeal claim denials, and having the support you need to access plan documents and file appeals,” he said. “Every person knows someone. Every family is touched in some way by mental illness or substance use. Parity is an issue for all of us.”

Robert Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, addressed the importance of parity in helping consumers access needed benefits – an especially important issue for individuals contemplating suicide or self-harm. He shared highlights from the new consumer parity guides and explained that timely access treatment can make all the difference when a person is experiencing suicidal thoughts.

For more information on the parity law, including a parity appeals toolkit and a quiz to test your “parity IQ,” visit the National Council’s parity website.