New website helps consumers fight for fair behavioral health coverage

    The website is drawing attention to a federal law that will help consumers get the behavioral health treatment they need. The law ensures that behavioral health care and medical care are covered equally under qualifying health insurance plans.

    “It’s really about equity and it’s not necessarily about, ‘you have to cover these things,’ but it’s about ‘these things have to be equal’ and about really viewing behavioral health as equal to all other types of health care,” said Luke Butler, a fellow with the Scattergood Foundation, the project’s co-creator.

    The website helps consumers identify parity law violations, such as when insurers set higher deductibles or co-pays for behavioral health treatment. One of the most common parity law violations includes long wait times to see a behavioral health provider, said Alyssa Schatz,  director of advocacy and policy at the Mental Health Association of Southeast Pennsylvania.

    “So in parity, your wait to see a behavioral health provider shouldn’t be any longer than your wait to see a physical health provider,” said Schatz.

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    “But what we’re actually seeing is that insurers are often providing very inadequate reimbursement for their behavioral health providers. So this means that fewer providers are able to contract with them, and consumers often have long waits to access care,” she said.

    The new website is intended to help consumers and advocacy organizations working on parity law compliance in their state. The federal parity law is left up to the states to enforce. Marcelo Fernandez Viña, another Scattergood fellow working on, said many states don’t know how to do that yet.

    “Right now I think what our website’s doing is really laying out the tools that could exist in terms of enforcing parity,” said Viña. “And, at this point, I don’t think anybody knows what the best way to enforce parity is. But I think through our work we may start to figure that out.”

    The prototype website offers resources on parity law in five states, including Pennsylvania. A complete version of the site will launch later this year.

    The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was signed into law in 2008, but regulations governing enforcement were only set in 2013. A recent national poll indicates only 4 percent of Americans are aware of the law.

    Disclosure: The Scattergood Foundation supports WHYY.

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