Sen. Warren, Rep. Kennedy Reintroduce Bill to Strengthen Parity
Earlier this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) reintroduced the Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act (H.R. 2874/S. 1576) with the aim of strengthening Americans’ access to mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. Specifically, the bill would increase oversight and enforcement of the federal parity law, which requires that insurance coverage of mental health and SUD services be equal to the coverage of medical and surgical health services.
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 established parity between the coverage of behavioral health and medical/surgical benefits. While the law has led to gains in behavioral health coverage, many individuals and families continue to report being denied or charged more for necessary mental health and SUD treatments by their health care plan. A survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that respondents experienced a rate of denials for mental health care that was nearly twice the rate of denials for general medical care. The bill’s reintroduction also comes on the heels of a federal judge’s ruling that found that the nation’s largest insurer, UnitedHealth, unlawfully denied beneficiaries access to mental health and SUD treatment in an effort to cut costs.
The Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act (H.R. 2874/S. 1576) would require insurance providers to disclose the analysis they utilize in making parity determinations as well as the rates and reasons for mental health/SUD claims denials versus medical/surgical denials. It also would require the Department of Health & Human Services, the Department of Labor and the Department of Treasury to undertake a minimum of 12 random audits of health plans per year to discourage noncompliance with existing parity laws. The results of the audits would be made public. Finally, it would establish a Consumer Parity Unit, giving individuals a centralized online clearinghouse to get information about their rights and to submit complaints with assurance of timely responses.
“Patients with behavioral health concerns deserve the same access to care as patients with physical health conditions, but for far too long, insurance companies have unfairly denied behavioral health care services to cut costs,” said Senator Warren in a statement. “Our bill would put a stop to these discriminatory practices and make sure patients get the treatment they need.”
REACTION FROM THE FIELD
The bill has received widespread support from mental health and addiction advocacy organizations, including the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and Massachusetts behavioral health provider association, the Association for Behavioral Healthcare (ABH). Vic DiGravio, President and CEO of ABH explained why his organization supports the legislation saying, “As providers of behavioral health services, our members see first-hand the difficulty their clients face in accessing timely treatment because of insurance barriers. Our members frequently note that these barriers are in sharp contrast to when their clients are seeking physical health care. Senator Warren and Congressman Kennedy are right to fight to strengthen parity laws. Behavioral health care must be made as accessible as physical health care.”
The National Council echoed support for the bill as part of the Mental Health Liaison Group (MHLG), a nonpartisan, nationwide coalition of mental health and addiction advocacy organizations, in this letter sent to bill sponsors.