Parity Implementation Coalition Advocates Mental Health Support

A. Kenison Roy, M.D., FASAM

A. Kenison Roy, M.D., FASAM

ASAM will continue to push for adequate funding for mental health and addiction treatment as a major participant in the Parity Implementation Coalition, says A. Kenison Roy III, M.D., DFAPA, FASAM, Vice Chair of the ASAM Legislative Advocacy Committee. The coalition, with 14 member groups, seeks to ensure allocation of health care resources and services for mental health and addiction comparable to those provided for other health conditions.

Parity efforts are aimed at achieving proper enforcement of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which was an amendment to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. Interim final regulations for the law went into effect in January 2010 for plan years beginning on or after July 1, 2010.

The Parity Act protects a group health plan’s mental health and/or substance use benefits, and was designed to end inequitable access to mental health benefits compared to those for general health. The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, which became law in 2010, embraced provisions of the Parity Act, Dr. Roy notes.

“ASAM pointedly took no position on health care reform overall, but lobbied strongly and successfully for inclusion of provisions buttressing treatment of addiction,” Dr. Roy says. “Regardless of the decision to be made by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the health care law, ASAM and the Coalition will continue to advocate for parity for addiction treatment, including delivery systems and financing.”

“ASAM’s view is that addiction is an illness and merits the same level of treatment and access to resources as other illnesses. As a member of the Coalition, we work hard on issues related to parity,” he adds.

Field hearings on these issues are planned across the country by Patrick Kennedy and Jim Ramstad, former Democratic and Republican members of Congress from Rhode Island and Minnesota, respectively. These hearings are intended “to make sure that parity comes to pass” and isn’t “sabotaged” by being starved of resources or otherwise, Dr. Roy says. The total number of hearings and their locations have not been finalized, although, according to a recent comment made by Ramstad, three are tentatively scheduled in the next three months, and a fourth is definitely set for St. Paul, Minn., on July 17.

“Assuming that the Affordable Care Act survives the current Supreme Court review, states will form health insurance exchanges, whose plans must include a minimum level of insurance coverage or “essential health benefits,” as legislated in the Affordable Care Act,” Dr. Roy says. The exchanges will offer insurance plans for those in the individual and small business markets. “There is an effort to minimize and/or diminish the requirement that addiction (and mental disorders) be covered at parity,” he says. “ASAM members can become involved by participating in their state legislative process and by helping to assure that the Essential Health Benefit in their states provide adequate treatment for addiction.”