Supporters of addiction and mental health insurance parity needed the patience of Job to see this effort through. Last week, the long-anticipated goal of seeing a law enacted to require health insurers to treat patients with addiction or mental illness equitably became a reality. On April 11, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into a law a measure that will eliminate health insurers’ restrictive practices for limited care for behavioral health patients and ensure accountability through a reporting the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance.
Unity Place of Monmouth, which provides quality behavioral health care for adults, applauds the resolve of advocates who spent years advancing the reform. The parity law prohibits insurers from imposing higher co-pays and other tighter restrictions on covering care such as care limits and usage reviews.
Also in the law is a requirement for insures to submit an annual report detailing their means of determining medical necessity and other treatment limits for both physical and behavioral health issues. The department is then charged with analyzing the industry reports and producing its own evaluation of whether parity is being achieved. Each May, DOBI must submit its assessment to the Legislature.
Gov. Murphy said the new law bring “peace of mind” to families who have a loved one with a behavioral health problem. One of those families is Valerie Furlong’s. Ms. Furlong and her husband have had to pay out-of-pocket for their sons’ treatment. During the signing ceremony, Ms. Furlong said that she and her husband were fortunate in that they had the means to pay for their sons’ care when their health insurer denied inpatient care. Many other families, Ms. Furlong noted, lack the resources to pay for life-saving treatment.
Parity has been in place at the federal level for more than a decade. Enforcement, however, was left largely to the states. New Jersey, like most states, did a poor job as an insurance watchdog. In fact, New Jersey was among many states earning failing mark from parity advocacy group ParityTrack, which was established by Patrick Kennedy, the former congressman and son of Ted Kennedy who now lives in New Jersey. This new law will greatly improve that rating.
The law will prevent insurers from creating further hardships for families whose loved ones are facing the challenge of substance use or mental illness. The wait for parity may have seemed biblical in length but it has had a happy ending – or perhaps it should be regarded as a happy beginning for behavioral health in our state.