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Health Plans Failing to Deliver Parity for Mental Health Benefits

Health Plans Failing to Deliver Parity for Mental Health Benefits

Jan. 26, 2022
For example, a health insurance issuer covered nutritional counseling for medical conditions like diabetes, but not for mental health conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

A report issued on January 25 from The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury, 2022 Report to Congress on the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAE), found that health plans and health insurance issuers are failing to deliver parity for mental health and substance use disorder benefits to those they cover.

 “The report’s findings clearly indicate that health plans and insurance companies are falling short of providing parity in mental health and substance use disorder benefits, at a time when those benefits are needed like never before,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. “The pandemic is having a negative impact on the mental health of people in the U.S. and driving a rise in substance use. As a person in recovery, I know firsthand how important access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment is. Enforcement of this law is a top priority for the Department of Labor and an objective I take personally.”

Covering Conditions Equally

In general, MHPAEA requires that the financial requirements and treatment limitations – such as copayments and prior authorization requirements imposed by a group health plan or health insurance issuer on mental health or substance use disorder benefits – cannot be more restrictive than the predominant financial requirements and treatment limitations that apply to substantially all medical and surgical benefits. The report cites specific examples of health plans and health insurance issuers failing to ensure parity. For example, a health insurance issuer covered nutritional counseling for medical conditions like diabetes, but not for mental health conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

“Access to mental and behavioral health support is critical as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact so many lives across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. “Unfortunately, as today’s report shows, health plans and insurance companies are falling short of providing access to the treatment many working families need. We are committed to working with our federal partners to change this and hold health plans and insurance companies accountable for delivering more comprehensive care.”

New Enforcement Tool

The report outlines the departments’ efforts to interpret, implement and enforce the amendments to MHPAEA made by the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021. The act provided the departments with an important new MHPAEA enforcement tool and additional funding to implement it. The law also requires the departments to report findings under this new provision annually. Today’s issuance is the first report under this requirement.

 “In the past year, the Employee Benefits Security Administration has placed great emphasis on ensuring parity for mental health and substance use disorder benefits,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Employee Benefits Security Ali Khawar. “As we continue to strengthen and build on these efforts through regulation, enforcement and compliance assistance, EBSA is determined to deliver on the law’s promise.”

The report also details the departments’ ongoing efforts to engage with stakeholders to reduce the stigma that individuals with mental health conditions or substance use disorders often face and raise awareness amongst stakeholders of these vital protections.

The fiscal year 2021 MHPAEA enforcement fact sheet is being issued with the 2022 MHPAEA Report to Congress. This fact sheet highlights EBSA’s landmark settlement against United Behavioral Health, as well as other enforcement data and significant results from MHPAEA investigations closed by EBSA and CMS in fiscal year 2021.

EBSA has primary enforcement jurisdiction over MHPAEA for approximately two million health plans covering roughly 136 million Americans. CMS has enforcement jurisdiction over MHPAEA in the individual and fully insured group markets in states where it has enforcement authority and over non-federal governmental group health plans, such as plans sponsored by state and local governments for their employees.

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