Massachusetts to AHIP: Educate insurers about mental health laws

The Massachusetts attorney general is urging America's Health Insurance Plans to educate insurers about complying with state laws about mental health coverage.

In a letter to AHIP, Attorney General Martha Coakley expressed her "serious concern" that many insurers aren't complying with Massachusetts laws requiring coverage of mental health services. She, therefore, urged AHIP to educate its members about her state's mental health law.

Coakley also highlighted several insurers, such as Aetna, that have failed to comply with Massachusetts laws in recent years. Her office fined Aetna more than $1 million last year for its violation. Coakley vowed to "continue to pursue enforcement actions" against any insurers that violate state mental health laws.

"Time and time again, our office has identified health insurance carriers that failed to cover critical health benefits for consumers," Coakley said in a statement accompanying her AHIP letter. "Mental health care is as necessary to the proper treatment of many patients as physical health care."

She particularly emphasized that veterans, who have urgent healthcare needs, should be able to receive mental health services as part of basic health insurance. "Failure to provide coverage of important mandated mental health benefits has a severe and detrimental impact on individuals who need those services, their families and even their communities," Coakley said.

Coakley's actions come amid closer scrutiny of insurers' mental health coverage, particularly after the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting last December. "Anytime something terrible happens involving mental health, people take a little more notice, which is a shame" because the needs exist independent of such tragedies, Don Condie, M.D., past president of the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society, told the Boston Globe.

After receiving Coakley's letter, AHIP is reviewing its contents. However, as spokesperson Robert Zirkelbach noted, AHIP doesn't advise members about how to comply with state and federal laws, the Globe reported.

To learn more:
- here's Coakley's statement and letter
- read the Boston Globe article

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