Monday, August 9, 2010


One of our main activities at LCL is referring lawyers, law students, etc to see behavioral health professionals. In my blog of August 2010, I briefly described the history of efforts to achieve insurance coverage for mental health and addictions treatment that was roughly equivalent to coverage for physical conditions. Laws with this purpose have been known as “mental health parity” laws. [None of this pertains to the more recent health care reform package.]

A major improvement of the Massachusetts parity law of 2000 came in 2009, when alcohol/drug abuse/dependence, as well as eating disorders, PTSD, and autism, were added to the list of diagnoses for which coverage was mandated. These illnesses, like those already included (e.g., major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, panic disorder), were no longer subject to arbitrary maximums of treatments, and even less severe conditions had to be covered up to 24 outpatient visits a year.

Then, the new federal parity law was to take effect in 2010, apparently bringing all psychiatric diagnoses under the parity umbrella, and applying even to most self-insured plans (which had been excluded from the state law, along with MassHealth and Medicare).

But things have become murkier with the advent of 2010. Some or all of the federal law seemed to be on hold and awaiting feedback until July. And I have not found any finalized word in my own Googling efforts. However, I notice that at least some Massachusetts insurers who post benefit information on line are no longer providing information about treatment maximums (which may suggest that the maximums no longer apply).

The upshot is that the chances that your behavioral health treatment will be covered are probably enhanced with the convergence of the federal and Massachusetts parity laws. But certainly you should be prepared for exceptions, which include plans through employers with 50 or fewer employees, and insurers may still find a way to exclude some conditions. And don’t forget that, if you have an HMO (and even the rare PPO, such as the Harvard Pilgrim plan now available through the state’s GIC program), no services will be covered without pre-authorization. Through the process of pre-authorization, the managed care company will determine how much treatment is “medically necessary.” Even without maximum numbers of visits, the mere fact that you and your treatment provider believe that therapy/counseling is indicated does not mean that the insurer will agree that they should be paying for it.

Although coverage remains as uncertain and ambiguous as ever, the overall trend is toward improvement. And though I wanted you to be an informed consumer, aware of the pitfalls, I certainly do not want you to use these complexities as an excuse to avoid getting the help you need.

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