A report by a presidential task force made several recommendations to help enforce the nation’s parity laws, but admits there is much more work to be done to insure those suffering from mental illnesses and addiction do not continue to face discrimination in their health care.
“These disorders,” the report says, “affect society in ways that go beyond the direct cost of care. Without effective treatment, people with these health conditions may find it difficult to find or maintain a job, may be less able to pursue educational training opportunities, may require more social support services and are more likely to have their housing stability threatened.”
Since the passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008, health insurers and employers have made progress toward improving coverage for mental health and substance abuse issues, the report noted. Many insurance plans no longer charge higher copays or separate deductibles for mental health care.
But, there are still significant problems with the parity law, including lax enforcement and little guidance for the public about the law itself or how to file a complaint. During the past seven months, the task force received 1,161 public comments from patients, families, insurers, advocates, state regulators and others.
Among the task force’s recommendations:
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is awarding $9.3 million to states to help enforce parity protections. California, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island were cited as models of promising enforcement efforts.
- A new government website will help consumers identify the right agency to assist with their parity complaints and appeals.
- A newly released consumer guide will help patients, families and providers understand their rights and look into whether they have experienced a parity violation.
- The Department of Labor will report each year on its investigations into parity violations.
The task force also recommended that the government increase its capacity to audit health plans for parity compliance and allow the Department of Labor to assess civil monetary penalties for violations.
Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, one of authors of the parity law, said that “much of what was released still places the burden of real action squarely on the shoulders of the patients living with these conditions. We are asking these individuals to take up their own cases when they experience a parity violation, which usually occurs at the height of their crisis.”