Mental Health Parity Guidance On Mental Health & Substance Abuse Copays, Utilization Management Limits Released


Group health plans and health insurers subject to the mental health parity requirements of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) have additional guidance about the effect of these requirements on utilization management and copayment requirements. 

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor and the Treasury (the Departments) on November 17, 2011 published additional FAQs that share insights on how the MHPAEA requirements impact certain common copayments and utilization review arrangements historically used by plans and insurers.  The new FAQ guidance here provides additional clarification about the meaning of the interim final rules implementing MHPAEA the Departments jointly issued on February 2, 2010, and previous FAQ guidance published on June 30, 2010 and December 22, 2010 as applied to these practices.

For group health insurers and group health plans subject to its provisions, MHPAEA generally requires that insurer or plan:

  • Cannot impose financial requirements and treatment limitations on mental health and substance use disorder benefits that are more restrictive than the predominant financial requirements and treatment limitations that apply to substantially all medical and surgical benefits; and
  • Cannot impose separate financial requirements or treatment limitations that are applicable only to mental health or substance use disorder benefits.

 The new FAQs share the Departments joint response to questions about their interpretation of the interim final rules on nonquantitative treatment limitations in various respects.  Among other things, the new FAQs reflect:

The new FAQs respond to various questions about the effect of the MHPAEA on various medical necessity and other utilization management practices that health plans and health insurers historically have applied mental health and substance abuse coverage’s. 

The FAQs generally reaffirm that group health plans and health insurers generally cannot apply stricter medical necessity or other utilization review for mental health or substance abuse treatments than the prevailing requirements generally applicable to medical surgical benefits under the plan or policy. 

The FAQ also provides insight into evidence that health insurers or health plan sponsors should consider and retain when designing fraud control or other medical management techniques to be defensible under the MHPAEA’s parity requirements.

Furthermore, the new FAQs also provide guidance about the viability and use of differences in clinical standards of care, length of stay, and other clinical standards to justify differences in the periods of coverage provided for mental and substance abuse coverage versus other types of treatments.

Finally, the FAQs also address when a group health plan or health insurer can require covered persons to pay a higher specialist copayment for mental health or substance abuse treatments than generally applies to care rendered to a non-specialist. 

Insurers, plan sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators also should consider the potential implications of various other federal requirements on the design and administration of mental health and substance abuse coverage and benefits under their programs.   For example, the express reference to mental health and substance abuse benefits as included within the definition of “essential benefits” for purposes of the Affordable Care Act requires additional consideration of the effect of the Affordable Care Act’s annual and lifetime limit and other mandates relating to essential benefit coverage be evaluated and addressed.  In addition, specific attention should be devoted to the potential effects of the Affordable Care Act’s independent review and other rules concerning the processing and payment of health benefit claims by non-grandfathered health plans.

Along with considering the potential implications of these emerging requirements, health insurers, group health plans and those involved in their design and administration also should verify that their eligibility and other program terms or practices do not inappropriately violate the nondiscrimination rules of laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act or other laws and that their plan and those involved in its administration are properly safeguarding the confidentiality of sensitive information about mental health , substance abuse or other health information about covered persons or their family.   Learn more here.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at ww.solutionslawpress.com

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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