MURPHY QUESTIONS SECRETARY ACOSTA ABOUT UNEQUAL INSURANCE COVERAGE OF MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION SERVICES

Click here to view video of Murphy’s remarks.

WASHINGTON – During a U.S. Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on Thursday, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) – co-author of the Mental Health Reform Act signed into law in 2016 – questioned U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta over unequal insurance coverage of mental health and addiction services. Specifically, Murphy stated that he will work to ensure that Congress provides the Department of Labor – a major regulator of health insurance – new authorities to levy civil monetary penalties for mental health parity violations and the ability to hold insurance companies, as a whole, accountable.

You mentioned that it would be helpful if the [Labor] Department had additional authority that it does not have currently in law to levy civil monetary penalties for mental health parity violations and the ability to enforce the law on insurance companies,” Murphy said. “We received—actually on this subcommittee I believe—a new report, maybe from about six months ago, which detailed the just unjustifiable difference in the way that insurance companies reimburse for opioid and addiction treatment versus how they reimburse for other types of treatment … I look forward to working with you and with Senator Murray and with Senator Alexander to try to reconcile that – try to fix that for you.” 

Yesterday, Murphy requested that the HELP Committee take action to improve mental health parity enforcement. Among other things, Murphy’s bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act strengthened enforcement of mental health parity laws, promoted integrated mental health and physical health, and established new programs to assist those with, or at risk for, mental illness. A fact sheet on his bill is available here.

Highlights of Murphy’s exchange with Secretary Acosta are below:

MURPHY: “Thank you Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you and the Ranking Member for all the attention that you have given to the issue of mental health funding and the conversation we’ve been having over the last few years around the issue of mental health parity.

“That is the subject of the first question I wanted to ask you about, Mr. Secretary. I want to commend you on comments that you made before President Trump’s Opioid Commission. In that meeting, you mentioned that it would be helpful if the Department had additional authority that it does not have currently in law to levy civil monetary penalties for mental health parity violations and the ability to enforce the law on insurance companies.

“We received—actually on this subcommittee I believe—a new report, maybe from about six months ago, which detailed the just unjustifiable difference in the way that insurance companies reimburse for opioid and addiction treatment versus how they reimburse for other types of treatment. Everybody who has been in an addiction situation can tell that story very personally.

“So I raised this issue yesterday at a HELP Committee hearing we had on a package of bills that Senator Alexander and Senator Murray are thinking about putting forward, and I just wanted to ask you to comment on why you think these new capacities, these new authorities are important to make sure that the industry is compliant with mental health parity laws.”

ACOSTA: “Well, senator, thank you for the question and I did testify at the President’s Commission. I think the President’s Commission adopted the recommendations.”

MURPHY: “They did.”

ACOSTA: “And so, we have been tasked with enforcing these mental health parity laws, but the way we enforce them is against each individual insurance plan. And so, if you’ve got an insurance company with 500 insurance plans, we would have to enforce as against each insurance plan. You know, what we do is we notify the insurance company, and the good insurance companies of course would change all their plans to be in accordance. But, as sort of someone that thinks of things to some extent from a law enforcement perspective, if you’ve got one person that has umbrella authority over the content of the various plans to enforce against each individual plan, is a highly inefficient enforcement mechanism.”

“The second point I’d make is the reality that there’s always limited resources. And as companies are looking to ensure that the benefits are in fact keeping with the law, as a general matter, the presence of a civil penalty tends to focus attention more than the absence of a civil penalty.”

MURPHY: “And you don’t have that authority under existing law either to look at the insurance company at-large verus the individual plans, or to levy civil penalties.” 

ACOSTA: “We do not have enforcement as against the insurer, and we do not have penalty assessment authority.”

MURPHY: “Well I look forward to working with you and with Senator Murray and with Senator Alexander to try to reconcile that – try to fix that for you.”

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