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Mental health services wane as insurers appear to skirt parity rules during pandemic

Emmarie Huetteman, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

In an interview, Wyden said he plans to embark on a “long-running project” as chairman to make care “easier to find, more affordable, with fewer people falling between the cracks.”

Spurred by how the pandemic has intensified the system’s existing problems, Wyden identified four “essential” targets for lawmakers: denied claims and other billing issues; the workforce shortage; racial inequality; and the effectiveness of existing federal law requiring coverage parity.

For Wyden, the issue is personal: The senator’s late brother had schizophrenia. “Part of this is making sure that vulnerable Americans know that somebody is on their side,” he said.

State and federal officials rely heavily on people’s complaints about delayed or denied insurance claims to alert them to potential violations of federal law. The report cited state officials who said they “routinely” uncover violations, yet they lack the data to understand how widespread the problems may be.

Congress passed legislation in December that requires that health plans provide government officials with internal analyses of their coverage for mental and physical health services upon request.

Part of the problem is that people often do not complain when their insurer refuses to pay for treatment, said Volk, who has been working with state officials on the issue. She advised that anyone who is denied a claim for behavioral care should appeal it to their insurer and report it to their state’s insurance or labor department.

 

Another obstacle: Shame and fear are often associated with being treated for a mental health disorder, as well as a belief among some patients that inequitable treatment is just the way the system works. “Something goes wrong, and they just expect that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Volk said.

The GAO report noted other ways the pandemic limited access to care, including how public health guidelines encouraging physical distancing had forced some treatment facilities to cut the number of beds available.

On a positive note, the GAO also reported widespread approval for telehealth among stakeholders like state officials, providers and insurers, who told government investigators that the increased payments and use of virtual appointments had made it easier for patients to access care.

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(KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.)

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