Mental Health Parity Enforcement Bill Passes Senate Committee

April 10, 2013

SACRAMENTO – Watchdog legislation introduced by Sen. Jim Beall to bolster health insurers’ compliance with state and federal mental health parity laws was unanimously approved with bipartisan support Wednesday by the Senate Health Committee. Senate Bill 22 now goes to the Appropriations Committee.

“SB 22 makes sure that Californians who have a mental illness or a substance abuse disorder will get the costs of their treatment covered by their health insurers,’’ Beall said. “This bill improves the monitoring of insurers’ compliance with parity laws. For health insurers who are already doing a great job, the system will reveal that. The system will also reveal to consumers and regulators which insurers that are not following the law.’’

Nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, patients, and suicide prevention groups spoke in favor of SB 22. Also joining them was John Lovell, a legislative advocate for the CA Police Chiefs Association and the California Narcotic Officers Association, who told the committee, “Mental health parity is a public safety issue.’’

Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who voted for SB 22, told colleagues his support was based on improving access to mental health services for parolees who needed it.

California has passed some of the strongest mental health and substance abuse parity laws in the country but those statutes are undermined by a weak enforcement system, resulting in a denial of care. Only 60 percent of people suffering from mental illness and 10 percent of people needing substance abuse disorder services have access to treatment, according to federal health officials.

SB 22 essentially modifies California’s parity enforcement system by ending its reliance on consumer complaints to a model in which health insurers would submit annual reports to the Department of Managed Health Care or the Department of Insurance to prove their compliance with documented evidence that includes surveys of consumers and providers, plus other analysis.

“These changes will provide the state with a more accurate measurement of insurers’ compliance with in-depth reliable data,’’ Beall said.

The current system’s findings are skewed because it places the burden on a person who may be struggling with a mental disorder to voluntarily file a complaint and cope with a new morass of red tape.