Murphy blasts insurers over mental health parity

PatientDaily, Carol Ostrow

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) recently demanded better mental health care equity during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing.

Murphy cited information from former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, stating that “behavioral care and addiction care is four to six times more likely to be provided out of network than for other medical or surgical care.”

He said that 24 states showed that addiction and mental health care reimbursement is 30 percent to 70 percent higher than for other medical and surgical care.

“Is there any way to explain this other than these companies being in gross violation of (federal) parity law?” Murphy asked. Kennedy responded that Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is currently investigating additional resources, adding that Acosta notably requested for extra enforcement to make insurance companies come into compliance.

“If you don’t enforce parity, the taxpayer ends up picking up the pieces,” Kennedy, a mental health professional and advocate who has worked to improve public policy, said.

Murphy countered that the violations are substantial and that Congress granted the Labor and Health and Human Services departments authority to address “non-quantitative treatment limitations,” which insurance companies may have exploited to minimize mental health and addiction care.

He noted that the officials were granted the authority to issue guidance, investigate complaints and audit insurance companies more closely.

Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz said that opportunities have been established to encourage a “portal” for access to information and help for patient rights and that her office has provided insurers with a “toolkit,” but Murphy countered that such promised guidance, reporting or audits have not been documented.

“Insurance companies are clearly in violation of the parity law,” he said. “I would beg you … to use the authority you have to make sure that people suffering from addiction and mental illness are treated the same as people who have cancer diagnoses and orthopedic diagnoses. You can do it and you have the authority under existing law.”