Advocates Say Mental Health ‘Parity’ Law Not Fulfilling Its Promise

http://www.medpagetoday.com/Psychiatry/GeneralPsychiatry/52916?xid=nl_mpt_DHE_2015-08-05&eun=g875301d0r

His 20-year-old son recently had been hospitalized twice with bipolar disorder and rescued from the brink of suicide, he said. Now, the insurer said he had improved and it was no longer medically necessary for the young man to see his psychiatrist two times a week. The company would pay for two visits per month…

His son again became suicidal and violent, causing him to be rehospitalized 8 months later, said Kamins, a marketing professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook…

The so-called parity law, which was intended to equalize coverage of mental and other medical conditions, has gone a long way toward eliminating obvious discrepancies in insurance coverage. Research shows, for instance, that most insurers have dropped annual limits on the therapy visits that they will cover. Higher copayments and separate mental health deductibles have become less of a problem.

But many insurers have continued to limit treatment through other strategies that are harder to track, according to researchers, attorneys, and other critics. Among the more murky areas is “medical necessity” review — in which insurers decide whether a patient requires a certain treatment and at what frequency.

Kamins is among a small group of people around the country to file lawsuits alleging federal or state parity laws were violated when patients with mental illness were held to a stricter “medical necessity” standard than those with other medical conditions…

In fact, only a handful of states have dug into whether insurers are complying with parity laws. And in the 7 years since the federal law was passed, the U.S. government has not taken a single public enforcement action against an insurer or employer for violating the law…

In a 2015 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an advocacy group for mentally ill people and their families, patients said they were denied payment because treatment was deemed “not medically necessary” twice as often for mental health as for other medical conditions…

Does that phrase sound familiar?  For chronic pain, the DEA decides what drugs are “medically necessary.”  The DEA also decides which doctors are over-prescribing drugs at levels that have been deemed “not medically necessary” for non-malignant chronic pain.

A few months after heading to an Ivy League college, however, he was overcome by depression, his father said. His grades slipped. He began experimenting with drugs. Then, in the spring of 2011, he tried to kill himself, according to Kamins and the lawsuit…

But Kamins said OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions would not cover inpatient care before his son had tried an outpatient program that focused on drug addiction…

By requiring the young man to “fail first” at a lower level of care before paying for more expensive residential treatment, Optum, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, had created an illegal obstacle to mental health treatment, the lawsuit alleges.

“Imagine someone going to a hospital and being told you can’t get open-heart surgery in the midst of a heart attack because you haven’t tried aspirin or nitroglycerin first. That’s the absurdity of it,” said Bendat, Kamins’ lawyer. “It’s just a way to discourage higher levels of care that we would never tolerate in the non-psychiatric context.” …

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