October 28, 2016

Senator Warren, Members of Congress Applaud Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force's Steps to Help Further Parity Protections

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Representative Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) applauded the President's Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force announcement yesterday of a series of steps to help ensure that patients receive the insurance coverage they are entitled to under the law. The task force released its final report with recommendations informing future actions on parity, along with a beta version of a consumer parity portal website. The Members also urged the next administration to continue this work, advance plans to effectively use data collected through the online portal, and further develop the online portal so that it gives consumers a single place to get information about their rights and to submit complaints with assurance of timely responses.

"The law is clear that insurance companies must treat mental health and substance abuse problems with the same access and coverage as other medical problems, but many companies make it far harder for people seeking mental health or substance abuse treatment to get the help they need," said Senator Warren.  The administration has just taken first steps to help create real parity, and I urge the next administration to continue this work so that no one is denied insurance coverage that they are entitled to."

"My good friend Paul Wellstone believed in creating a world where mental and physical illness were treated the same." said Senator Franken. "And since joining the Senate, I've made it a priority to continue this fight by championing ‘mental health parity.' The steps announced by the White House will bring us closer to that goal, and I hope we can continue working to expand mental health awareness and treatment options for people in Minnesota and across the country."

"While the law is clear that access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment should be equal to physical health care access, far too many Ohioans continue to call and write my office to share their stories of struggling to utilize the mental health care services they need," said Senator Brown. "I'm glad the Administration has taken steps to make it easier for these patients to access treatment, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to secure true mental health parity as the law intended."

"Current law requires parity for mental health and medical benefits, but insurers reject claims for mental illness at nearly twice the rate as claims for physical illness. That means that Americans fighting addition, struggling with depression, or experiencing anxiety are forced to argue with their insurance agency instead of accessing treatment. The new portal announced by the Administration will help give those consumers the tools they need to hold their insurers accountable. But full enforcement of mental health parity requires that we maximize transparency by shining a light on the unlawful denial of mental health services," said Senator Blumenthal. 

"I am encouraged that the President is taking some needed steps to strengthen implementation of mental health and substance abuse parity protections. The Task Force's report and a new consumer portal will serve as important tools to help patients access needed care," said Senator Baldwin. "But there is more that we must do. I continue to hear from Wisconsinites who are regularly denied insurance coverage of life-saving services. I urge the Administration to work swiftly to improve the new parity portal and to hold insurers accountable through stronger transparency, oversight and enforcement so our families get the mental health and substance abuse care they need."

"It is essential that Congress takes bipartisan action to not only codify many of the critical reforms suggested by the White House Parity Task Force today, but enact even stronger enforcement," said Congressman Kennedy. "The Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act will add teeth to our parity laws and hold insurers accountable for unjustly denied mental health claims. As Congress continues to work towards a comprehensive mental health bill in the months ahead, these provisions must be included."

Federal laws require that insurance coverage for mental and behavioral health care services is on par with the coverage offered for physical health care services, for most plans. However, a survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that nearly 50 percent of respondents had been denied coverage for mental or behavioral health care, compared with only 14 percent denied for physical health care.

In March, the Senators introduced the Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act, which would increase transparency and strengthen accountability for insurers so that patients receive the mental health coverage they are entitled under the law. The legislation is a companion to the House bill originally introduced by Congressman Joe Kennedy III.