Update Health Plans For Expanded MHPAEA & Health Care Reform Mental Health Mandates


With attention heavily focused on the health care reform mandates of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA), many employer and union sponsored group health plans are underestimating plan costs and risking significant liability from outdated mental health and substance abuse coverage rules to comply with the mental health parity mandates of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). 

Although covered group health plans and issuers generally have been required to comply with the statutory provisions of the MHPAEA for all plan years beginning after October 2, 2009 and with the interim final regulations jointly issued by the Departments of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services for all plan years beginning after June 30, 2010, many employer or other plan sponsors have yet to properly update their health plan documents, claims and appeals processes, summary plan descriptions and other communications to comply with these MHPAEA mental health benefit mandates or a myriad of other changes to federal health plan rules that already are effective.  Violations of these mandates can result Labor Department or private plaintiff lawsuits, requiring the health plan to pay benefits not budgeted for and in some cases, not covered by stop loss or other insurance, as well as Internal Revenue Service and other penalties, as well as attorneys’ fees and other costs of defense.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you to catch up on what private employer and union health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators need to do to update and administer their group health plans to comply with MHPAEA and other federal health plan mandates in addition to updating their health plans in response to the ACA requirements already effective or scheduled to take effect in upcoming months by participating in person or via WebEx in the “2012 Health Plan Update Workshop” on July 24, 2012.

Many Health Plans Need Update For MHPAEA & Other Federal Mental Health Mandates

The MHPAEA supplemented the previously enacted mental health parity requirements enacted under the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 (MHPA).

For plans and policies subject to its provisions, the MHPAEA as implemented by the Departments’ interim final rules generally prohibit group health plans or group health insurance issuers from imposing financial or quantitative requirements (such as a copayment or coinsurance) or a quantitative treatment limitation (such as a limit on the number of outpatient visits or inpatient days covered) on mental health or substance use disorder benefits in any of 6 classifications that is more restrictive than those that apply to medical/surgical benefits in the same classification. Thus, if a plan generally applies a $25 copayment to at least 2/3 of outpatient, in-network, medical/surgical benefits, a higher copayment could not be imposed on outpatient, in-network mental health or substance use disorder benefits.

In addition to financial requirements and quantitative treatment limitations, plans and issuers often impose nonquantitative treatment limitations, such as:

  • Medical management standards limiting or excluding benefits based on medical necessity or medical appropriateness, or based on whether a treatment is experimental or investigative;
  • Formulary design for prescription drugs;
  • Standards for provider admission to participate in a network, including reimbursement rates;
  • Plan methods used to determine usual, customary, and reasonable fee charges;
  • Refusal to pay for higher-cost therapies until it can be shown that a lower-cost therapy is not effective (also known as fail-first policies or step therapy protocols); and
  • Exclusions based on failure to complete a course of treatment.

Since it released interim regulations, the Departments have published a series of FAQ guidance that answers various questions about interim final rules and taken other steps to promote awareness and understanding of the MHPAEA, as well as taken other steps to prepare for its enforcement.

Despite the availability of this guidance, many employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators have not updated their health plans to comply with the MHPAEA guidance.  

Attention focused on the political fights and regulatory demands of ACA and an often unwarranted assumption of the compliance adequacy of plan designs and documentation provided by insurers, administrators and other professional service providers have lead many employer and other health plan sponsors, their health plan fiduciaries and administrators to fail to make legally required or otherwise needed changes.  These oversights are exposing many plans and their sponsors to unanticipated costs and potentially significant liability by failing to appropriately update their plans documentation, communications and procedures to comply with evolving mandates such as the mental health parity requirements of the MHPAEA as implemented by evolving guidance. 

Following the release of updates to the MHPAEA portion of the Employer Self Compliance Tool here by the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) last week and with mental health benefits among those that ACA specifically identifies as an “essential benefit,” employer and union health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators should expect greater scrutiny of their plans compliance with federal mental health parity mandates by updating their health plans’ mental health and substance abuse provisions in response to the MHPAEA and other federal mandates.

7/24 Workshop Provides Update on MHPAEA & Other Health Plan Mandates

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you to catch up on the latest MHPAEA and other federal requirements impacting employer and union sponsored group health plans under ACA and other federal health plan regulations by participating in “Coping With Health Care Reform: 2012 Health Plan Update Workshop on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Participants may choose to attend the live briefing in Addison, Texas or participate via WebEx for a registration fee of $125.00. To register or for more information, see 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:

For important information concerning this communication click here. 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.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.

 

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