Click here to view video of Murphy’s remarks.
WASHINGTON — During a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Wednesday, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) – a member of the HELP Committee and co-author of the bipartisan Recovery COACH Act to expand access to recovery coaches for people suffering from addiction – highlighted the success of Connecticut’s recovery coach program and important role recovery coaches play in helping people recover from addiction. Murphy, whose Mental Health Reform Act was signed into law in 2016, also requested that the HELP Committee take action to improve mental health parity enforcement and ensure that insurance companies provide equal coverage of treatment for mental illness, including addiction, and physical illness.
“We’ve got a lot of success in Connecticut with recovery coaches. We’ve seen an increase across the country in emergency room visits for opioid overdoses by 30 percent, and you know, I’ve had so many people in Connecticut talk to me about how we need to lengthen out the spend on addiction. Treat it more like a chronic disease than simply a crisis illness. And recovery coaches are one of the ways to do that,” said Murphy.
Murphy continued, “The reality is that anybody out there who’s tried to access insurance reimbursement knows that it is a whole lot harder to get an insurance company to pay for addiction treatment than it is to fix your broken leg, or to address heart disease. We have new reports that we’ve been given showing that there is just an unjustifiable disparity in terms of how insurance companies reimburse on the addiction side and the non-addiction side, and we have a Republican administration asking for some new authorities – I think some common sense authorities – and I hope that we can talk about that.”
Murphy introduced the Recovery COACH Act and the Preventing Overdoses While in Emergency Departments Act with U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) last month after hearing directly from first responders and families in Connecticut about the effectiveness of using recovery coaches to help folks struggling with addiction. Over the last few weeks, Murphy met with recovery coaches at roundtable discussions in Vernon, Stratford, and Danbury. Hospitals across Connecticut – including Danbury Hospital, Day Kimball Hospital, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, Manchester Memorial Hospital, MidState Medical Center, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, and William W. Backus Hospital and Windham Hospital – currently provide recovery coaches, and the Connecticut Community For Addiction Recovery (CCAR) trains recovery coaches all over the nation.
Full text of Murphy’s exchange with Robert I.L. Morrison, Executive Director of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Director, and Jessica Hulsey Nickel, President and CEO of Addiction Policy Forum, is below:
Senator Murphy: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you all for being here today.
“While Senator Cassidy is still here, let me just put a plug in for the Mental Health Reform Act that we both worked on in consultation with the Chair and Ranking Member, that passed in 2016. As part of that piece of legislation, we included some pretty important changes to the mental health parity law, which allows for federal regulators to make sure that insurance companies are not just putting in their statement of benefits your behavioral health and addiction benefit, but that they are also administering your benefit in a way that is not discriminatory.
“I wanted to, maybe, direct this question to you, Mr. Morrison. Secretary Acosta came before President Trump's Opioid Commission and talked about the lack of tools that he has in order to enforce this requirement under federal law that, when you have insurance, you have an equal addiction benefit to your non-addiction benefit. The reality is that anybody out there who’s tried to access insurance reimbursement knows that it is a whole lot harder to get an insurance company to pay for addiction treatment than it is to fix your broken leg, or to address heart disease. And so, he specifically - Secretary Acosta - asked Congress to give him two new authorities. He said I need the power to level civil fines - there are no civil fines fight now in the parity law - and second, he wanted to be able to come after, not just the employers, but the insurance companies themselves. So let me just ask you a general question. Do you believe that, as you look at it, there are still enforcement challenges when it comes to administering the mental health parity law?”
Mr. Morrison: “I think there are. I think there have been studies, as you have referred to in terms of accessing the benefit. There has been a look at accessing substance abuse benefits as opposed to physical benefits, and there have been challenges and barriers. Our members know this issue based on folks that they see who are uninsured or under-insured, and so they work with state health insurance commissioners, plans, and the like to educate them. But the bottom line is we have a law in the books, and resources to help enforce and implement the law would be helpful. And the Governors’ Association has included that as part of their recommendations as has the commission that the president convened under Governor Christie.”
Senator Murphy: “Senator Alexander, we’re lining up requests as we go through this hearing, but one of mine would be that we take a look at these authorities that the secretary has asked for that are actually included in President Trump’s commission’s recommendations to us. We have new reports that we’ve been given showing that there is just an unjustifiable disparity in terms of how insurance companies reimburse on the addiction side and the non-addiction side, and we have a Republican administration asking for some new authorities – I think some common sense authorities – and I hope that we can talk about that.
“The other subject I wanted to bring up to the panel is the subject of recovery coaches. I think, again, Mr. Morrison, you reference it in your testimony. We’ve got a lot of success in Connecticut with recovery coaches. We’ve seen an increase across the country in emergency room visits for opioid overdoses by 30 percent, and you know, I’ve had so many people in Connecticut talk to me about how we need to lengthen out the spend on addiction. Treat it more like a chronic disease than simply a crisis illness. And recovery coaches are one of the ways to do that.
“And so, I’m maybe going to ask the question to you, Ms. Nickel, since it’s already in your testimony Mr. Morrison. So you talked about the need to get parents and family members more involved and have policy that facilitates them being part of this conversation. And it seems to me that recovery coaches is a way to do that – to have somebody who can be that liaison but also bring in the family members. Just wanted to sort of ask your thought on, you know, whether it’s worthwhile. Senator Capito and I have two pieces of legislation that would do this. Just wanted to ask your opinion on this.
Ms. Nickel: “Absolutely. Addiction is a family disease – it affects every member of the family, and pure recovery support specialists, recovery coaches, can play an integral role in making sure that long-term plan is in place. We also know from literature that treatment and recovery plans need to be three to five years long, not 14 days, not 28 days. So you think about if you have a hip replacement – my grandma had one last year – you have the recovery plan on the things that you need. It’s the same with treatment for addiction, and we know that we need a much longer runway for the recovery support to make sure that that patient is well and has the services they need.
Senator Murphy: “It’s such a hard problem because we need to spend more money but we do need to be having a conversation about how we’re spending the money today, whether it’s best served as we primarily do today in intensive supports right up front, or whether we need to lengthen out that spend. Recovery coaches is a way to do that.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”