Mental Health Parity in the News

While mental health parity often takes a back seat in behavioral health billing, recent news shows that it has not been forgotten.

On August 12, Fierce Healthcare reported that UnitedHealthcare will pay $15.6 million to settle federal and state investigations into mental health parity. 

An investigation by the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration found that UnitedHealth would reduce reimbursement rates for out-of-network behavioral health services and would flag members who were undergoing mental health treatment for utilization reviews.

UnitedHealth Group, the parent company of UnitedHealthcare, said in a statement to Fierce Healthcare that the company is “pleased to resolve these issues related to business practices no longer used by the company.”

On a call with reporters, Acting Assistant Secretary for Employee Benefits Security Ali Khawar said that mental health parity enforcement is a key health priority at the Department of Labor under the Biden administration.

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Despite these comments, in May Modern Healthcare reported that “Mental health services wane as insurers appear to skirt parity rules during pandemic.” 

Therapists and other behavioral healthcare providers cut hours, reduced staffs and turned away patients during the pandemic as more Americans experienced depression symptoms and drug overdoses, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

In April, the American Psychological Association testified before Congress saying, “Stronger mental health parity law enforcement is needed to address the impact of the coronavirus.” APA Chief of Psychology in the Public Interest Brian Smedley, PhD told a House subcommittee ““The COVID-19 pandemic worsened what was already a mental health tsunami in this country. Research suggests we may be grappling with the mental health impact of this pandemic long after the pandemic itself ends. We must do more to improve access to mental health treatment for those who need it.”

He also went on to note a loophole in the parity law that is leaving many essential frontline workers without mental health insurance coverage and called on Congress to make several enhancements to existing legislation. 

With mental health parity in the news, will insurance company processes change? Or will we continue to see insurers “skirt parity rules” and reduce behavioral health billing and coverage?