The U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury announced the issuance of a proposed rule to strengthen regulations under the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which aims to ensure that access to mental health and substance use disorder benefits through health insurers is not more restrictive than access to medical and surgical benefits. The departments simultaneously issued a technical release seeking feedback on proposed new data requirements for limitations related to the composition of a health plan’s or issuer’s network of mental health and substance abuse providers. The proposed rule is expected to draw opposition from insurers, who could see the initiative as masking broader problems associated with the spike in mental illness and substance abuse, the dearth of providers trained to treat these conditions and uncertainties about the related costs.

The report to Congress that DOL released with the text of its proposed rule to effectuate mental health parity across health insurance plans illustrates why both private insurers and union-sponsored plans need to take the proposal seriously. In the report, DOL noted a final determination it recently issued for several plans that are not in compliance with existing Mental Health Parity Act standards, including some unions plans (e.g., the Pipefitters Union Local No. 537 Health and Welfare Fund in Boston and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 126 Health and Welfare Plan in Collegeville, Pennsylvania).