WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, along with U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) on Thursday introduced legislation to hold insurance companies accountable and give the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) the authority to assess civil monetary penalties for violations of mental health parity requirements. This new authority would incentivize compliance and strengthen the protections of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

“It’s already the law that insurance companies must cover mental health just like they cover physical health, and yet they’re still finding ways to dodge compliance and deny coverage of care. This bill would give the Department of Labor new tools to enforce mental health parity laws, incentivize compliance, and hold insurers accountable,” said Murphy.  

“We need to treat mental health with the same urgency we treat physical health, and that means making sure everyone has access to the care they need,” said Smith. “This bill would help make mental health care more accessible and affordable by holding insurance companies accountable when they violate mental health parity requirements. I am proud to introduce this legislation, which will bring us one step closer to ensuring everyone has access to quality, affordable mental health care.”

“Americans of all backgrounds are dealing with mental health challenges which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – and it’s critical that there is proper enforcement of mental health parity law to ensure insurance providers are abiding by the law and helping Americans, instead of maintaining barriers that prevent full access to mental and behavioral health services” said Luján. “I’m proud to join Senators Murphy and Smith in introducing this legislation that will make mental health parity a reality by allowing the Department of Labor to deter violations of the law and increase access to life-saving treatment.” 

“Empowering our government with tools to hold health plans accountable for equal coverage of mental health and addiction treatment is critical to getting more people on the road to recovery. Most Americans cannot afford to pay for care out of pocket—it’s time we seize the opportunity before us and do what it takes to save lives,” said former Congressman and lead author of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, Patrick J. Kennedy.

“The American Psychological Association applauds Sen. Murphy for introducing the Parity Enforcement Act, which would give the Department of Labor the necessary enforcement power to help practitioners deliver much-needed behavioral health services,” said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. “Although insurers are required by federal law to offer mental health care at the same level as the physical health care that they cover, many still do not comply. This bill will help to hold these plans accountable.”

“Insurers are required to cover mental health and substance use conditions just as they would any other condition. Yet too often, patients are denied coverage when they need it most,” said Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A., Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention commends Senator Murphy for introducing the Parity Enforcement Act, which will provide the U.S. Department of Labor with expanded oversight authority to ensure compliance with existing federal parity requirements and ultimately increase access to life-saving behavioral health care.”

“Correcting discriminatory insurer practices is critical to removing the stigma surrounding addiction and increasing access to evidence-based treatment for substance use disorder. The American Society of Addiction Medicine fully supports the Parity Enforcement Act, which would provide much-needed enforcement of existing federal parity law and help more Americans access comprehensive addiction treatment services,” said Paul H. Earley, MD, DFASAM, immediate past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).

"Giving the Department of Labor the authority to impose civil monetary penalties on health plans and insurers for violating the parity law is a critical next step for improved accountability. The Department's report to Congress earlier this year demonstrated that despite increased transparency, plans and insurers are still falling short of full compliance. We appreciate Senator Murphy’s continued efforts to ensure true mental health parity enforcement,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. 

Earlier this year, Murphy and U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) introduced legislation to reauthorize the historic federal mental health and substance use disorder programs that were signed into law in 2016 as part of their Mental Health Reform Act and strengthen existing mental health and substance use disorder parity laws.