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Senate Hearing Examines Impact of Delayed Parity Law on Mental Health Patients

November 30, 2013

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ARLINGTON, Va. (Nov. 7, 2013) – Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy will testify today before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights, and Agency Action on the impact of delayed federal rulemaking, citing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (Parity Law) as a prime example of the human cost of a broken regulatory process. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) applauds Sen. Richard Blumenthal for his leadership in convening the hearing.

“The Parity Law protects patients for the express purpose of providing equal access to non-discriminatory mental health and addiction treatment as intended by Congress,” said APA President Jeffrey Lieberman, MD. “Without a final rule, the Parity Law is essentially ineffective and unenforceable to the detriment of those in need.”

Although an Interim Final Rule for the Parity Law was issued in 2010, weak and inconsistent application, insurance company manipulation of the regulations, and outstanding issues the rule did not address have negated the substantial strides made in providing treatment equity for those suffering from mental illness or addiction. Some insurers have continued to evade what is required by law, responding to patients with vague medical necessity standards, discriminatory payment practices leading to inadequate provider networks, bureaucratic delays in service requests, lengthy approval procedures, and complicated appeals processes.

The need to protect and fight for the rights of mental health patients has never been greater. Just this week, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a class action brought by the New York State Psychiatric Association, filed on behalf of its members and their patients, after four families were denied benefits by United Health Care and United Behavioral Health. The court determined that employers would ultimately be responsible for insurers’ violations of the Parity Law under employer-sponsored health plans. Judge Colleen McMahon said that organizations like the New York State Psychiatric Association cannot represent their members or patients’ interests in such health care discrimination lawsuits. Left most vulnerable by the decision are the men and women who served in uniform and now need treatment for the posttraumatic stress and other emotional injuries they brought home

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