Strengthening Behavioral Health Parity Act passed by Congress

By Anthony Kassir

[From the APA] APA applauds Congress for taking a crucial step forward in our efforts to ensure patients have access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment just like any other form of medical care. On December 21st, Congress passed an end of the year package that included H.R 7539, the Strengthening Behavioral Health Parity Act, which promotes accountability and transparency in how insurance plans design coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services. This legislation was introduced by Representatives Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Fred Upton (R-MI), Katie Porter (D-CA) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) in July 2020.

As a result, federally regulated ERISA plans as well as state-regulated insurance plans will be required to:

  • Perform comparative analyses of their MH/SUD benefits to medical and surgical benefits and provide those analyses to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) or state insurance commissioners.
  • Make necessary corrections to their plans if the DOL deems them noncompliant with current mental health parity laws or inform their beneficiaries of the plans' noncompliance
    Additionally, the DOL Secretary will send an annual report to Congress that identifies plans that are out of compliance with mental health parity laws.

During the 116th Congress, APA worked with its Congressional allies to pass legislation that compels insurers to enhance the transparency and accountability of mental health and substance use benefits. Last year, Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) as well as Representatives Katie Porter and Gus Bilirakis introduced the Mental Health Parity Compliance Act, which was the legislative basis for the Strengthening Behavioral Health Parity Act.

Given how difficult it is to move legislation in Congress in these polarized times, it is rare for legislation like the Strengthening Behavioral Health Parity Act to pass within two years, if at all. This singular achievement by our profession can be credited to the many APA members who advocated for the legislation, our 2019 Federal Advocacy Conference attendees who advocated for the bill's introduction, APA's President, Dr. Jeffrey Geller, who testified in support of the parity legislation in Congress, and our bipartisan legislative champions. This victory would not have happened without your efforts or the bipartisan support they produced.



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