Sen. Murphy Calls For More Enforcement Of Mental Health Parity Laws

By:  Katie Toth

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut wants to require the federal government to investigate whether private health insurers are following a law called the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. The law says private insurers can’t impose financial or other barriers that only apply to mental health benefits. In other words, for people with private insurance, it should be as easy to get mental health benefits as it is to get physical health ones.

Murphy’s looking to give federal agencies more power to enforce and investigate private insurance companies, as part of a wide-ranging mental health reform bill he’s cosponsoring with Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Murphy held a forum to get feedback on the bill at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven on Wednesday. He said the bill would also make insurance companies disclose the bureaucratic steps for people who want mental health treatment to the federal government, so it’s easier to enforce mental health parity laws.

“A lot of these insurance companies can hide some of the internal bureaucratic tricks they use to stop you from getting access to your mental health benefit,” he said. “And, so, we’re increasing the things that insurance companies have to disclose so that the enforcement agencies can come after them.”

At the forum, many people applauded Murphy’s ideas in the bill. Several people told Murphy their stories about the mental health system. Many of them said that mental health treatment was more stigmatized and harder to get than physical health treatment.

Among other things, the bill would increase funding for mental health programs for children as young as three years old, and it would designate an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The bill would also change patient privacy laws, giving doctors guidelines on when to share information about a mentally ill patient with his or her family.