5 Things From the Task Force on Mental Health Parity

Audits, consumer education, and help for states were among the recommendations to force better compliance with the 2008 law, which seeks to ensure that coverage for mental health or substance abuse disorders mirrors other benefits in a health plan.

The White House task force report on parity in health coverage for mental health and substance abuse has drawn attention to the continued difficulty that some patients have getting care, despite a 2008 law. While parity was enshrined in the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the task force still found room for improvement. Here are 5 things about the task force report.

1. More transparency is needed

Full disclosure about federal investigations into parity law violations, as well as proactive audits with results, would show consumers how to spot trouble. The task force also called for a publicized list of “warning signs” to help patients, as well as a Consumers’ Guide to Disclosure Rights.

2. Government must comply, too

The task force wants an accounting of how Medicare is complying with the law, and it recommends that Congress end the exemption for self-insured non-federal plans that cover state and local government employees. Finally, Congress must extend parity to TRICARE, which covers the military.

3. The burden shouldn’t all be on patients

Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, who sponsored the 2008 parity law, called the task force report a “good start,” but said too many recommendations still call on patients and their families to fight for their benefits, instead of having enforcement agencies cracking down on insurers.

4. There’s new money for enforcement

With the report came CMS’ announcement that it is putting $9.3 million in new funds toward state-level enforcement. Another agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will hold training sessions in 2017 for state regulators.

5. New payment models may help

Though not part of the task force report, CMS this week also finalized the 2017 Physicians’ Fee Schedule for Medicare, which calls for funding collaborative care models that put behavioral health services inside the primary care practice. Some believe broader use of this model will reduce barriers to care for those with depression and substance abuse disorders.