Obama aims to ramp up enforcement of mental health parity law

The Obama administration's latest effort to tackle the opioid abuse crisis includes a renewed attempt to compel health insurers to provide adequate coverage of mental health and substance abuse treatments, Kaiser Health News reports.

Patient advocates have long complained that despite the passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008--which mandated equal coverage for both medical and behavioral health services--some insurers continue to doge the law. This includes denying the medical necessity of some claims, offering networks that lack behavioral health providers and not adequately covering the costs of anti-psychotic medications, according one study released last year.

With these concerns in mind, President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced the creation of an interagency task force that would identify and promote best practices for state and federal agencies to ensure the parity law is enforced. 

"We've got to let the insurance carriers know that we're serious about this," Obama said during the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, according to KHN.

Federal officials also finalized a rule this week that requires Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program to follow the same behavioral healthcare services coverage mandates as private plans. And expanding Medicaid in the remaining holdout states would do even more to improve access to mental health and substance abuse services, the administration said.

Yet some experts feel the president's effort to step up the pressure on private plans is too little, too late.

Patrick Kennedy, one of the authors of the 2008 parity law, tells KHN that he's disappointed Obama waited until the last year of his presidency to encourage better enforcement and also announced the effort with little fanfare. And lawyer Meiram Bendat, who has helped sue several insurers over parity law violations, said that simply creating a task force "is a far cry from much-needed enforcement."

The America's Health Insurance Plans trade group, however, has argued that insurers aren't trying to get around the law, saying health plans have taken "tremendous steps to implement these changes and requirements in a way that is affordable to patients," FierceHealthPayer has reported.

To learn more:
- here's the task force memorandum
- read the KHN article

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