HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and other officials participated in the parity listening session. (Photo: HHS)

A new federal Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force recently gave providers and consumers a chance to talk to it without, apparently, giving insurers or employers a chance to talk.

Kathryn Martin, acting assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, writes in a department blog entry published earlier this week that the parity task force held a listening session June 10.

“Fifteen leaders of organizations representing consumer and provider groups from the mental health and addiction fields shared their perspective and offered recommendations for how to improve awareness of and compliance with the law,” Martin writes in the blog entry.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the department secretary, and Michael Botticelli, the director of the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy were at the listening session, Martin writes.

Stakeholders “conveyed that most consumers and many providers may not know how to get help if they think coverage is not in compliance,” Martin says. “They asked the Task Force to focus on enforcement, transparency and simplifying the process and tools for consumers and providers.”

Behavioral Healthcare has published a written version of listening session remarks by Ron Manderscheid, executive director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors and the National Association for Rural Mental Health. Manderscheid says he told the task force that the federal government should do more to monitor implementation and compliance of private insurance with parity requirements.

The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers says it had representatives at the listening session. The addiction treatment provides “forcefully made the point that the parity law will never be fully implemented until there is full disclosure regarding reasons for denials combined with aggressive enforcement measures,” the group says in a report on the session.

The Obama administration announced the creation of the parity task force in March, in response to complaints from providers and patients about what they have said is weak enforcement of Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 benefits requirements.

Related: Kennedy to help probe insurers’ mental health benefits

The 2008 legislation, which is known as the MHPAEA, and federal parity regulations do not require group health plans to cover behavioral health services. The law and the regulations do require that any benefits for the mental health services or addiction treatment services offered be similar to the other health benefits offered. 

Obama administration officials have used the essential health benefits package provisions in the Affordable Care Act to apply the MHPAEA parity requirements to all individual and small-group major medical plans issued since the ACA became law.

The parity task force is inviting members of the public to send comments about parity enforcement to parity@hhs.gov

Related:

5 new parity traps that could ruin your benefits clients

Tri-agency advice: What a mental health counselor should ask a plan

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