(Hartford, CT) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) issued a statement after the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury issued a long-delayed final rule implementing the Mental Health Parity Act of 2008. Issuance of the final rule comes just one day after Blumenthal chaired a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights, and Agency Action hearing titled “Justice Denied: Rules Delayed on Mental Health and Auto Safety,” in which he and witnesses highlighted the long delay of the Mental Health Parity Act rule.
Blumenthal said, “These rules expanding mental health care are the single most important step to stem and stop gun violence since the Newtown tragedy. They move America toward treating mental illness before it leads to senseless death and injury involving guns. They will also help millions of Americans who are not dangerous but victims of painful, debilitating, and disabling mental health conditions. Maybe most important, is the availability of mental health treatment to our brave, dedicated veterans, who suffer from the signature invisible wounds of recent wars like PTS and TBI. The regulations are sadly long overdue, and now must be vigilantly enforced. They are final regulations, but they are not the final word. Vigorous and vigilant enforcement are vital, and I pledge close oversight and scrutiny.”
For decades, scholars, advocates, and public officials have noted that delays in the rulemaking process force agencies to rely on less formal rulemaking methods – including interim rules – which frequently produce worse rules and involve a less transparent process. The final rule issued today implements the Mental Health Parity Act, and ensures that health plans features like co-pays, deductibles and visit limits are generally not more restrictive for mental health/substance abuse disorders benefits than they are for medical/surgical benefits. The rule also includes specific additional consumer protections, such as:
- Ensuring that parity applies to intermediate levels of care received in residential treatment or intensive outpatient settings;
- Clarifying the scope of the transparency required by health plans, including the disclosure rights of plan participants, to ensure compliance with the law;
- Clarifying that parity applies to all plan standards, including geographic limits, facility-type limits and network adequacy; and
- Eliminating the provision that allowed insurance companies to make an exception to parity requirements for certain benefits based on “clinically appropriate standards of care,” which clinical experts advised was not necessary and which is confusing and open to potential abuse.