NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 21, 2013

Our view: Set rules now on mental health parity


Newburyport Daily News

---- — Nearly five years ago, Congress passed the mental health parity law championed by the passionate Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who fought for coverage for mental health treatment that would be equal to medical and surgical care.

Almost immediately, insurance and employer groups fought against the specifics of implementation just as hard as they fought for 10 years against the law itself.

Consequently, the Obama administration has slowed down any progress on regulations to a snail’s pace. And even with new studies and re-emerging news reports of the inadequacy of coverage for those with mental illness, the White House says it still needs yet another year to finalize the rules.

This is scandalous.

There apparently is enough willingness to put gun control on the front burner but not enough to assist the welfare of our most vulnerable citizens.

Sen. Al Franken, sitting in the seat once held by Wellstone, has been pushing the White House to finalize the regulations. “Getting folks with mental illness the care they need is just as critical as getting someone with a broken leg to the emergency room,” Franken said.

Under pressure, the administration released rules regarding parity in insurance plans to be offered through the Affordable Care Act.

This comes nowhere near what providers and insurers need to move forward, which are the detailed rules defining the full scope of services that insurers must provide. The White House says it needs more time.

Some things are not in dispute. Under federal law, large employers who offer mental health benefit coverage cannot charge any more than what is being charged for general medical services. Nor can limits be set on treatments any more than limits are placed on the medical care.

But access and enforcement remains in limbo.

The frustration is compounded because insurers, trying to comply with the ACA, are drafting plans to be sold on insurance exchanges, and without final rules, there is little chance there will be any consistency.

If the administration needs to bring in more analysts to hammer out the rules, then do it. And if no compromise can be found between advocates and insurers, make the decision so either side can then work on how it will adjust.

But this continued malingering of governance is prolonging the deplorable state of inequity in health care to those people who need it the most — and who apparently have the softest voice of the special interests.