by Jessica Foster
In 2008, a federal law for Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MPHAEA) was established to address the way mental health care is addressed in the US. The idea behind mental health parity is that mental health and physical health should be treated the same and should receive the same kind of coverage. If a health coverage plan offers unlimited doctor visits to treat a physical condition such as diabetes, that plan must also offer unlimited doctor visits for treating a mental health or substance use disorder. Furthermore, it helped establish that health coverage could not be denied on the basis of a pre-existing mental health condition.
In theory, this all sounds very good. However, eight years down the line there are still a lot of issues that need to be addressed. Luckily, states have the ability to strengthen and develop tools needed to enforce the parity law. In the state of PA, the Parity Act is still not enforced very well. Fortunately, these issues have not gone unnoticed, and recently, PA Representative Thomas Murt introduced House Bill 2173 with the intent to better track cases where parity is not occurring in order to better enforce the law. It primarily looks for ways to ensure insurance companies comply with the laws already in place.
For those curious why they should support the bill, here are a few reasons. Mental health parity will mean that Pennsylvanians across the state will receive better access to the care they need. By obtaining that access and receiving treatment covered by their health insurance, the state will save money since a lot of mental health and substance use need has currently been shifted to public programs such as Medicaid. Moreover, this bill can bring to light people’s rights to appeal service denials, as few people are aware of their rights and take action. Representative Murt also hopes this discussion can help reduce stigmas about mental health problems. Similarly, people who experience substance use disorders would also gain needed access to health care to be treated.
Insurance companies would not have to face new regulations, they simply would feel more pressure to act on current regulations in place. Mental health parity is already in place theoretically, but widespread failure to enforce this throughout Pennsylvania has resulted in complacency. We encourage people to learn more about their rights and push for those rights to be upheld.