The authority of state insurance regulators emerged as a key issue, here, earlier this week during a hearing on the major mental health parity bills.
“In moving forward toward equity in coverage for mental health services, it is important to maintain the recognition that state policymakers may determine it necessary to have a stronger set of standards to ensure the protection of patients in state-regulated health insurance policies,” Sean Dilweg, Wisconsin insurance commissioner, testified during the hearing, which was organized by a House Education and Labor Committee subcommittee hearing.
Wisconsin, for example, wants to maintain the right to require employers to provide mental health benefits, even if federal law simply continues to regulate the nature of any mental health benefits that are offered, Dilweg said, according to a written version of his remarks.
Jon Breyfogle, a Washington lawyer who testified at the hearing on behalf of the American Benefits Council, Washington, criticized the idea of letting states set their own mental health benefits standards.
That flexibility would violate Employee Retirement Income Security Act provisions that preempt state efforts to regulate benefit plans at employers with more than 50 employees, Breyfogle said.
Changing the ERISA preemption rules would be a major step, and it “should not be an adjunct to a bill whose purpose is to address mental health parity, Breyfogle testified.
Both the Senate mental health parity bill, S. 558, and the House version, H.R. 1424, would require group health plans that offer any mental health benefits to apply the same terms to mental health benefits that they apply to other types of care.
S. 558, introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., would explicitly protect the authority of employers and insurers to manage use of mental health care, and it would restrict states’ ability to pass new mental health benefits laws.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved S. 558 earlier this year.