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Agencies say they’ll be gentle about parity

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The Obama administration says it will try to accentuate the positive when it goes about implementing the new Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act regulations.

Officials at three agencies – the U.S. Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service; the U.S. Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration; and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight – talk about how they will persuade employers to follow the parity rules in a batch of answers to questions about implementation.

MHPAEA does not directly require any health plan to offer mental health or addiction treatment benefits, but it does require the rules for any behavioral health benefits offered be similar to the rules for about two-thirds of the medical benefits offered.

Separate HHS regulations will require issuers of non-grandfathered individual and small-group health plans to offer behavioral benefits, and to ensure that the behavioral health benefits meet the MHPAEA parity standards.

Some of the answers in the new batch of MHPAEA guidance deal with mechanical issues, such as when the rules are effective for group coverage (for plan years beginning on or after July 1, 2014) and where employers should write if they want to try to get an exemption from the parity requirements.

Another section, which deals with enforcement, addresses the question, “What are the departments doing to promote compliance?”

The agencies said they’ll work with state regulators and through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to ensure compliance and issue guidance to answer stakeholders’ questions.

“Compliance assistance is a high priority,” the agencies said. “The departments’ approach to implementation is marked by an emphasis on assisting plans and issuers that are working diligently and in good faith to comply with the requirements of the law.”

When the departments get compliance complaints, they’ll work with the “regulated community to correction violations,” the agencies said.

The departments also will put out implementation guides and explain the rules at events, the agencies said.

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