At last, Congress has passed a wide-ranging bill to address the opioid epidemic in this country, the death-rate of which, like suicide, continues to increase, ravaging hundreds of thousands of families. This overdue legislation comes on the tenth anniversary of the Mental Healthy Parity, passed by Congress in the dark financial days of 2008. Ironically, the MHP bill, sponsored by then-Rep. Patrick Kennedy and shepherded in the Senate by his father, Edward Kennedy, was made the vehicle for the federal bank bailout, which assured its passage.

Unlike the bank bailout, mental health parity has been largely unenacted: in 32 states, equal coverage is not enforced. Had it been enforced, then the opioid crisis, and many others, might have been mitigated, with many lives saved and much agony prevented.

Under the Parity law, insurance companies which cover med-surge benefits must similarly cover behavioral healthcare (mental-health and addiction treatment). The subsequent passage of the Affordable Care Act further affirmed behavioral health as an essential benefit of plans for individuals and small groups.

Patrick Kennedy remains a national advocate for implementation: his The Kennedy Forum, with three other organizations, recently issued a report grading the states by program-compliance with the federal law. Only one state, Illinois, received an A, while Fs went to Indiana, Arizona, Wyoming, and Idaho. One problem is the abysmal ignorance of healthcare consumers: only 4% realize that the Mental Health Parity law exists.

The need for wider understanding of public rights and better implementation of the law is obvious: per the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20% of Americans in any given year experience a mental disorder, but more than half of them do not receive treatment.

What’s going on with implementation in your state?


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