Behavioral Health

House Passes Mental Health Bill Opposed by Plan Sponsor Group

Demand for mental health care has ballooned since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and lawmakers from both parties have introduced legislation designed to improve access to such care. But while the idea of increasing access to mental health care is appealing to virtually all members of Congress, there is a tangle of policies that could achieve it, and legislators haven’t been able to agree on which threads should be spun into a high-profile reform bill. One such proposal that is backed by the White House and just passed the House of Representatives — H.R. 7780, the Mental Health Matters Act (MHMA) — was attacked by employer plan sponsors this week.

Congress seems poised to act on mental health issues this year, Joel White, president of Horizon Government Affairs, tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT. White is a veteran lobbyist and a former Republican staffer in the House of Representatives. The House has passed several mental health measures — including, on Sept. 28, H.R. 7780 — but the Senate’s work is moving at a slower pace.

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AHIP Pledges to Step Up Mental Health Parity Compliance

The federal government and patient advocates have directed withering criticism regarding behavioral health coverage toward health plans in recent months. AHIP, the health insurance industry’s largest trade group, responded this week with a statement from its board emphasizing its commitment to equitable access to mental health benefits.

In January, the federal agencies that regulate health plans published a biannual report which found that health insurers have systematically failed to document the level of mental health care access they provide to members. That documentation is part of a yearslong federal effort to make plans comply with mental health care parity laws, which stipulate that health plans are not allowed to impose benefit limitations — non-quantitative treatment limits (NQTLs) — on mental health care that are more severe than limits placed on medical and surgical benefits.

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News Briefs: HHS Predicts 15M Will Lose Coverage Once Medicaid/CHIP Redeterminations Resume

HHS is currently projecting that 17.4% of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollees — or about 15 million people — will move out of those programs when the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) ends. States have been barred from conducting eligibility redeterminations for Medicaid and CHIP during the PHE, as a condition of receiving enhanced federal funding, but those eligibility checks will resume whenever the PHE ends. Of those expected to lose Medicaid/CHIP coverage, almost one third are expected to qualify for premium tax credits to help defray the cost of Affordable Care Act marketplace plans, and among those people, more than 60% can access a zero-premium plan.

News Briefs: More States Extend Medicaid Postpartum Coverage

HHS on Aug. 16 approved the extension of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurnace Program (CHIP) coverage for 12 months after pregnancy in Hawaii, Maryland and Ohio. Combined with previously approved state extensions made possible under the American Rescue Plan Act, 21 states and the District of Columbia now offer a full year of postpartum Medicaid/CHIP coverage. Separately, CMS issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on Aug. 18 that aims to require mandatory, annual state reporting of three quality measure sets: the Core Set of Children’s Health Care Quality Measures for Medicaid and CHIP; the behavioral health measures on the Core Set of Adult Health Care Quality Measures for Medicaid; and the Core Sets of Health Home Quality Measures for Medicaid. The quality measures “will allow us not only to identify health disparities but also to implement interventions based on the very data that make those disparities clear,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.

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New CMS Bulletin Could Mean Greater Oversight of Medicaid Network Adequacy

CMS in a recent bulletin unveiled a “suite of new resources” aimed at guiding states and CMS in their oversight of Medicaid and CHIP programs, including managed care programs. Two items of particular interest to managed care organizations in a July 6 Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services Informational Bulletin (CIB) are templates that provide a standard format for states to report managed care medical loss ratios and network adequacy to determine how well a plan actually delivers its benefits. As plans struggle to meet network adequacy standards, the new template could lead to more intense oversight of network adequacy within managed care, industry experts suggest.

ACA Plans Deny 18% of Claims in 2020; Enrollees Rarely Appeal

About 18.3% of in-network claims were denied by non-group qualified health plans (QHPs) offered on HealthCare.gov in 2020, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. Among the 144 issuers in HealthCare.gov states with complete data on claims received and denied, 52 of them had a denial rate between 10% and 19%. In 2020, the majority of denials (72%) were classified as “all other reasons,” while one in five of the roughly 765,000 medical necessity denials involved behavioral health services. In addition, of the more than 42 million denied claims in 2020, marketplace enrollees appealed fewer than 61,000 claims — a 0.1% appeal rate — and insurers upheld 63% of denials that were appealed.

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Poor Mental Health Care Access Increases Systemic Costs

Health insurers have long struggled to administer behavioral health benefits, which won’t get easier any time soon: Demand for mental health services is high due to the opioid crisis and the mental health strains of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts from clinical, financial and policy backgrounds say that coordinating behavioral health care with traditional medical benefits — and bringing behavioral health care providers into insurer networks — are both essential to managing costs and ensuring access to care.

Despite decades of policymaking that has attempted to streamline access to mental health care benefits, most notably through mental health parity, mental health care remains expensive and hard to access. (Several federal laws mandate mental health care parity: Health plans are not allowed to impose benefit limitations on mental health care that are more severe than limits placed on medical and surgical benefits.) What’s more, mental health care providers are usually siloed from other clinicians on a patient’s care team, which tends to exacerbate medical conditions and increase costs.

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Mental Health Care Access Varies Across Demographics, Insurance Coverage

One in four adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression prior to the COVID-pandemic, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of the National Health Interview Survey in 2019. While the rates of people reporting mental health symptoms across racial and ethnic groups are similar, a much larger share of Black adults with moderate to severe symptoms did not receive treatment. Meanwhile, uninsured people were significantly more likely to not receive mental health care (62%) compared to their insured counterparts (36%). Since the pandemic began, more people suffered from poor mental health, with one-third of adults reporting anxiety and/or depressive disorder in February 2022.

HHS Seeks Funding to Promote Mental Health Parity, Free Visits

The Biden administration’s proposed budget includes an ambitious mental health care agenda that would step up enforcement of mental health parity, change medical necessity standards and require expanded mental health benefits. Though the budget is only a proposal and must pass Congress, where it will be heavily modified, the document arrives at a moment when legislators in both parties have made expanding access for behavioral health care a central element of their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid misuse epidemic.

The administration’s proposed 2023 HHS budget in brief includes several notable behavioral health proposals that would impact commercial insurers. That list of proposed policies includes stepped-up behavioral health parity enforcement, more funding for Medicare and Medicaid behavioral health benefits and a requirement that all health plans — including commercial group plans backed by employers — provide three behavioral health visits per member every year without charging any cost sharing.

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AHIP Will Prioritize Telemedicine, Health Equity Post-Pandemic

On Feb. 23, health insurer trade group AHIP hosted a virtual State of the Industry presentation, reviewing progress made in 2021 and important issues for the health insurance industry as it looks to a world beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matt Eyles, president and CEO of AHIP, opened the conversation with a look at the organization’s 2021 initiatives and hopes for 2022. Eyles stressed the importance of the No Surprises Act, which aims to protect consumers from surprise medical bills. The legislation went into effect on Jan. 1, but it is currently the subject of a number of lawsuits filed by organizations including the American Hospital Association and American Medical Association. “AHIP continues to fight and protect the law,” Eyles said during the presentation.

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