The 2022 report to Congress from the Department of Labor (DoL) on compliance by group health plans with the federal mental health parity laws identifies numerous instances of continued discrimination in coverage for treatment of mental health diagnoses.
Federal law generally prohibits insurers from discriminating against people who need coverage for treatment of mental health conditions. Basically, health insurers cannot have limitations that are more restrictive of treatment for a mental health condition than for other conditions. These rules have only become more important since the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to mental health issues for many Americans; for instance, the CDC noted a 30% increase of overdose deaths since the pandemic.
In large part for this reason, DoL has made enforcement of the mental health parity rules a priority in recent years. One new enforcement tool is a 2021 rule passed by Congress requiring health plans to provide DoL with a comparative analysis of treatment limitations for mental health conditions to help DoL ensure these practices follow the law.
DoL’s report identified many problems with health plans’ reporting about mental health parity. For instance:
- Failure to document comparisons of treatment limitations for mental health limitations before implementing those limitations;
- Lack of evidence or explanation for their assertions; and
- Failure to identify the specific benefits affected by mental health limitations.
DoL also noted that enforcing these reporting rules had led to the removal of several widespread insurer practices that violated the mental health parity rules.
For example, one major insurer was found to routinely deny certain behavioral health treatment for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This resulted in denying early intervention that could have lifelong results for autistic children. DoL found over 18,000 insureds affected by this exclusion.
Another example involved the systemic denial of treatment used in combatting the opioid epidemic. New research has found that combining therapy with medication can be more effective for treating opioid addiction than medication alone. DoL found a large health plan excluded coverage for this therapy in violation of the mental health parity rules.
Other treatments DoL’s report identified as being denied on a widespread basis in violation of the law included counseling to treat eating disorders, drug testing to treat addiction, and burdensome pre-certification requirements for mental health benefits.
DoL’s report is a reminder that discrimination on the basis of mental health related disabilities remains a part of the insurance business despite years of federal legislation to the contrary.