Monday, May 18, 2015

Law for equal access to mental-health care is not always followed; more of a problem in rural areas

By law, mental health benefits must be offered equally to medical and surgical benefits if the plan offers them, but this isn't always the case. That's likely more of a problem in rural areas, where mental-health services are usually harder to get anyway.

Not only does a 2008 federal law require most employer-sponsored plans to provide equal access to mental health benefits, but that parity was expanded and strengthened in 2010 by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Twenty-three states require some level of parity. Common requirements of these laws prohibit insurers from charging higher co-payments and deductibles for mental-health services; require insurers to pay for mental-health treatment in the same scope and duration as medical treatments; and so on. While insurers typically keep track of the copayment and deductible requirements, they struggle with keeping track of the compliance requirements related to actual delivery of medical services, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline.

A recent report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that nearly one-third of those surveyed were denied authorization for mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, with this rate nearly twice as high for those on Obamacare plans. The survey was conducted by Avalere Health and is based on a survey of 2,720 individuals with mental illness or with someone in their family with mental illness and an analysis of 84 insurance plan drug formularies in 15 states.

One of the main obstacles for consumers and providers is that it is not clear what criteria insurance companies and managed-care Medicaid organizations use to determine medical necessity for mental-health and substance-abuse care, and aren't transparent with this information. "Without that information," Ollove wrotes, "it is difficult for regulators and consumers to determine whether the denial of coverage is warranted."

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