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Behavioral Health Parity

A new report finds that there have been substantial gains on the issue of making addiction and mental health coverage equal to physical health coverage. Much work still needs to be done, especially for children, according to Ron Manderscheid, PhD, Executive Director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors (NACBHDD) and the National Association for Rural Mental Health. “Children can’t speak for themselves on the issue of parity,” Manderscheid says. “That’s why it’s very important for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and state health insurance commissioners to protect the rights of children around parity. Any child who has health insurance coverage through the individual marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, is entitled to parity protection, but we don’t really know how well it’s working.” The estimated 8.4 million children enrolled under the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is part of Medicaid, are not covered by parity protections, Manderscheid noted. “The field has so focused on problems with implementing parity with adults that children haven’t gotten equal attention in this process.” In October, the White House Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force issued a report that concluded that overall, state-level substance use disorder parity laws have helped to increase the treatment rate by approximately 9 percent across substance use disorder specialty facilities and by about 15 percent in facilities that accept private insurance. This effect was found to be more pronounced in states with more comprehensive parity laws.

“The concept of parity is simple, but the implementation of it is incredibly complex,” said Manderscheid. The trickiest part of parity is a concept called non-quantitative treatment limitations, which are processes that managed care firms use to determine who will and won’t get care, he explains. Currently, the burden chiefly falls on the consumer to report to the federal or state government if their claims for addiction or mental health treatment are denied. “The enforcement burden should fall on HHS, state insurance commissioners, and the insurance companies themselves.”