The regulators for the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) have just issued guidance on health plan disclosures for non-quantitative treatment limitations (NQTLs).  This guidance consists of an FAQ and a proposed model form for plan members to request information so they can determine whether their plan’s NQTLs are at parity.

The regulations define NQTLs broadly as non-numerical/non-dollar limits on the duration or scope of plan benefits, such as medical necessity and prior authorization requirements.  Over the past two years, Federal and State regulators have increasingly centered enforcement on NQTLs.  But because the term NQTL is so broad, their examinations are often not well-focused, creating compliance challenges.

The new model form could help limit these wide-ranging regulatory forays.  The form asks the member to identify a claim that was denied and to indicate the specific NQTL the plan cited as the basis for the denial.  It then provides a list of NQTLs that appear to be those the regulators believe are most likely to affect benefits.  This list includes plan rules on medical necessity, experimental/investigational services, prior authorization, step therapy and fail first standards, drug formularies, access to in-network providers, and provider reimbursement rules.

One purpose of the form is to “encourage uniformity among State reviews of health insurers’ compliance with the NQTL standards.”   (FAQ at page 2).  This suggests regulators should focus enforcement efforts on the more significant NQTLs—the items listed on the model form—and not engage in open-ended investigations of other medical management tools.

The model form lists information that plans must provide in response.  The list includes: plan language on the NQTL and the medical/surgical and mental health benefits to which it applies; the factors and evidentiary standards used to develop the NQTL; the methods and analysis used to develop the NQTL; and “any evidence” to establish that the NQTL is applied no more stringently to mental health than medical/surgical benefits.  To clarify that plans are not expected to make a massive document dump in response to the form, it may be helpful for the regulators to create a response form which permits the necessary information to be provided in a summarized manner.

The regulators plan to finalize this form by mid-December, and ask for comments to be submitted by September 13, 2017.

On April 6, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) released a proposed rule to implement the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (“MHPAEA”) for coverage offered by Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (“MCOs”), Medicaid Alternative Benefit Plans (“ABPs”) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”).  MHPAEA requires group health plans and health insurance issuers to ensure that financial requirements or treatment limitations applicable to mental health and substance-use disorder (“MH/SUD”) benefits are comparable to, and are applied no more stringently than, the same financial requirements or treatment limitations applied to medical and surgical (“M/S”) benefits.  Interim final regulations implementing MHPAEA for commercial plans were jointly issued by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) in February 2010, and final regulations were jointly issued by the Departments in November 2013 (hereinafter, the “Joint Regulations”).

Since the passage of the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, parity mandates have been enacted that reach most types of health care coverage, although what is required by “parity” laws can vary greatly.  In 2001, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program implemented parity for in-network mental health and substance use disorder benefits. MHPAEA was enacted in 2008 to extend the reach and scope of parity (to include, among other factors, substance-use disorder benefits) in large group coverage.  The Affordable Care Act’s Essential Health Benefits requirements now require most individual and small group coverage to include mental health and substance use disorder benefits, and these benefit must be provided in compliance with MHPAEA.  If finalized, this CMS proposed rule would further clarify the application of mental health parity requirements, in this case to Medicaid programs.

Continue Reading CMS Proposed Rule Implements Mental-Health Parity Requirements for Medicaid Managed Care and CHIP Plans

According to a new study focusing on consumer information, nearly 25 percent of group health plans provided through Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) exchanges may be violating federal mental-health parity laws.

The study was led by associate professor Colleen Barry of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and is published in the current issue of Psychiatric Services. To conduct the study, Barry and her colleagues reviewed benefit brochures offered in two state-run exchanges during the first ACA enrollment period between 2013 and 2014.

The study alleges two significant problems. First, according to the study plans in the exchange often had financial disparities. For example, the study found that plans would include different co-pays for mental-health and substance-use disorder services from medical/surgical services. Second, according to the study some mental-health and substance-use disorder services had more stringent “prior authorization” requirements than their medical/surgical counterparts. These disparities, the report suggests, can dissuade people from selecting more expensive plans with more generous mental-health and substance-use-disorder benefits. According to the study, because mental-health and substance-use disorder services are often more expensive than medical/surgical services, insurers may benefit when consumers are dissuaded from joining plans with more generous mental-health and substance-use disorder benefits.

Continue Reading Study Suggests Many ACA Exchange Plans Violate Federal Parity Laws