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Kennedy to help probe insurers’ mental health benefits

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Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have approved a version of a mental health bill that leaves out some insurance-related provisions included in an earlier version.

Related: America’s mental health care crisis: A story in numbers

But Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said during the bill “markup,” or revision session, that the committee will probably hold a hearing on the mental health services benefits insurers offer in September.

Upton told Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-Mass., that the committee staff would work with Kennedy and Rep. Frank Pallone, R-N.J., the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, to make sure the hearing includes witnesses who can help the committee “see precisely where we are, and what we need to do.”

Kennedy is the great nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, and a cousin of Patrick Kennedy. Patrick Kennedy is a former representative from Rhode Island who lobbied for the federal government to speed up implementation of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. After Patrick Kennedy left Congress, he published a memoir about the affects of mental illness and alcoholism on his family.

The House Energy committee marked up H.R. 2646, the Helping Families Mental Health Crisis Act bill, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., introduced the original version of the bill in June. The committee focused on marking up an amended version introduced by Upton and Pallone.

Members of the committee voted 53-0 Wednesday, at the end of the markup, to approve the Upton-Pallone version of the bill.

Excluded provisions

Both versions would help mental health care providers share more information with the relatives of people believed to be suffering from schizophrenia, major depressive disorder and other forms of serious mental illness.

Provisions in both would seek to expand the supply of mental health care providers and improve group health plan compliance with existing behavioral health benefits parity standards. One provision would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, to give insurers and employers more guidance on how to meet parity standards.

The version approved omits a provision that could have required Medicaid to cover “all drugs” used to treat serious mental illness, and a provision that could have expressed the sense of Congress that psychiatrists should accept private health coverage, Medicaid and Medicare.

The current federal parity standards, set by the 2008 parity act, do not require group plans to cover behavioral health plans. If, however, an affected group plan does cover mental health services, the mental health services benefits must be comparable to the plan’s other health benefits.

While members of the committee were debating the bill, Kennedy blasted the current level of insurer compliance with the 2008 parity act standards. He said H.R. 2646 does too little to help families get insurers to cover mental health services for relatives with serious mental illness.

Kennedy proposed an amendment that could require health insurers to disclose the analyses they conduct when deciding whether to approve patients’ mental health services claims. The amendment also could require federal agencies to conduct at least 12 detailed audits of behavioral health parity compliance at health insurers and group health plans and post the results on a public website.

Related: Mental parity enforcement fight looms

“Beneficiaries don’t need more guidance from HHS,” Kennedy said. “They need federal regulators that can enforce the law. They need transparency.”

Upton told Kennedy, “We recognize your leadership, and your family’s leadership, and particularly your leadership on this issue. We need to get the facts.”

After Upton promised to organize the hearing on parity compliance, Kennedy agreed to withdraw his parity compliance disclosure amendment.


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