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Senate Health Committee Hones in on Mental Health Parity Enforcement

By: Patrick Ouellete, Esq.

Though stakeholders in the self-funded health plan industry may not be following Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) enforcement with the same vigor as perhaps the Affordable Care Act (ACA), these entities should be aware of recent efforts in Congress to strengthen mental health parity among plans.

Six members the Senate Health Committee recently sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar contending that the current administration has not enforced equal treatment of mental health disorders and substance abuse in insurance plans. Along with the uncertain status of the ACA, this bipartisan effort highlights the uneven regulatory ground in which MHPAEA currently stands.

Under MHPAEA, self-funded health plans are not required to offer coverage for mental health and substance abuse. If they do choose to offer coverage, however, the plan must cover mental health and substance abuse in parity with the major medical benefits, such as same copay or coinsurance. MHPAEA was a provision 21st Century Cures Act, which had required that HHS, the Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Treasury develop an enhanced enforcement plan and guidance by December 13, 2017. From there, Congress was to use agency recommendations to continue to put more teeth into MHPAEA enforcement.

Since no plan has been issued to date, the Senate Health Committee members’ letter to HHS, DOL, and the Treasury focuses on what the agencies have done to improve parity by, for example, taking action on non-qualitative treatment limits as well as a timeline for ratcheting up enforcement activity. The committee requested a response by May 1, 2018.

The letter’s questions and commentary are significant for the self-funded industry because both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have not forgotten about MHPAEA even though December 13, 2017 has passed. Plans that are subject to its requirements if they cover mental health and substance abuse should take note of Senate Health Committee. Looming in the background is the Government Accountability Office, which the committee stated will be following the agencies’ respective responses carefully.