January 11, 2018

Senator Hassan Cosponsors Bill to Strengthen Mental Health Parity Laws

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) today helped introduce the Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act, a bill sponsored by Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-MA-4) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to hold health insurers accountable for providing adequate mental health benefits and increase transparency for consumers seeking coverage for mental illness and substance use disorders.

According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness report, insurers denied authorization for mental health care at nearly twice the rate they did for medical care, often providing no information about the criteria used to make the decision. A follow-up survey found that over a third of respondents covered by private insurance struggled to find a single mental health therapist who would accept their insurance.

“We know that mental illness and substance use disorder often co-occur, and we must hold insurance companies accountable to ensure that patients are able to access affordable treatment that they urgently need,” Senator Hassan said. “This legislation will help bring long overdue accountability for insurers and protections for patients who need quality mental health care.”

Under current federal law, most insurance plans must provide mental health coverage on par with the coverage they provide for other medical or surgical services, a requirement known as “parity.” However, adherence to existing parity laws has been weak and inconsistent. 

The Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act would require insurance issuers to disclose annually to federal regulators the analysis they perform in making parity determinations as well as the rates and reasons for mental health claims denials versus medical/surgical denials. It also would require the Department of Health & Human Services, the Department of Labor and the Department of Treasury to undertake a minimum of 12 random audits of health plans per year to discourage noncompliance with existing parity laws. Finally, it would establish a Patient Parity Portal, allowing consumers to easily access all publicly available parity information and submit complaints in a central online clearinghouse.