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Can the feds finally make mental health parity a reality? Here’s hoping…

Health insurers need to be held accountable for covering mental and physical healthcare equally.

The future of mental health coverage parity remains uncertain, according to a recent article from Axios.

But it’s not for lack of trying.

For the upcoming legislative session in February, the Senate Finance Committee plans to focus on mental health, including how health insurers still don’t treat behavioral health on par with physical health — even though they’re supposed to.

To give you one example, Axios notes, most insurance companies cover nutritional therapy for patients with conditions like diabetes, but not for mental health conditions like anorexia or bulimia.

For decades, advocates “have charged that insurers are not adequately covering behavioral health services. The issue has become a priority for more lawmakers as the aftereffects of the pandemic become clear,” the article reports.

Unfortunately, these advocates are getting pushback from insurers (unsurprising) and employers (a little more surprising).

Here’s why: insurance companies would be on the hook for even more claims if they actually covered mental healthcare like they do physical care. This would likely mean they would raise their prices, which hits employers (and employees) in the form of premium increases.

Hence the pushback.

But here’s the thing – they’re legally already on the hook. In 2008, the feds passed a law that requires insurers to ensure equal coverage between mental and physical health conditions. If you did the math like we did, that’s 14 years of equal coverage that patients should have been receiving. And as for employers – it’s well-established that mental health issues create huge losses for businesses and the economy.

In other words, there’s really no downside to increasing mental health access – except for insurance company shareholders.

And so, despite the fact that insurers are required to cover mental healthcare at the same level as physical care, insurers (like UnitedHealthcare, for instance) continue to deny patients their due treatment. All the while, emergency hospitalizations for mental health crises continue to rise.

The simple fact is: Insurers are just not following through. And it will be up to regulators and legislators to make sure that they do.

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