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Behavioral Health Parity Act Town Hall

Stephen C. Taylor, Commissioner of the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB), held a town hall meeting on July 9, 2019 for healthcare providers and insurers to discuss the Health Parity Act. The town hall was held as part of the Department’s efforts to ensure that people living and working in the District of Columbia have access to quality, affordable behavioral health services. The event took place at DISB headquarters and was available for participants in person and via WebEx.

The Commissioner was joined by Howard Liebers, Supervisory Insurance Examiner; Margot Thistle and members of her team from Public Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG); as well as Eric Scharf and Melinda Hasbrouck from the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).

The town hall was held to discuss the Behavioral Health Parity Act of 2018 (DC Law 22-242; DC Official Code § 31–3175.01 et al.) and what this new law means for health insurance companies, health care providers and consumers in the District of Columbia. The law moves the District forward in ensuring parity consistent with the federal Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). “The Department has been hard at work, since the Parity Act was enacted in March 2019, to prepare tools to implement the enforcement standards set forth in the law,” said Commissioner Taylor. “Beginning this October, issuers will be required to annually report to the Department on parity and the Department must, in turn, report to the Council of the District of Columbia.” Additionally, the law gives the Department the responsibility for evaluating and responding to complaints regarding any potential or actual violations of MHPAEA, and for developing and maintaining a publicly available consumer complaint log.

To facilitate easy and standardized reporting among issuers, the Department engaged PCG to assist with building reporting workbooks. The workbooks were shared electronically with issuers ahead of the town hall and reviewed at the event. Also discussed were the ways that the specific metrics outlined in the Parity Act will be evaluated. Attendees were given a preview of the report and data templates. With accurate and consistent reporting on mental health parity and substance abuse treatment services, the Department can provide consumers with transparency on issues such as consumer access to mental health and substance abuse services, difficulty in accessing medication assisted treatment, and the availability of providers in the District to service the needs of policyholders.

Further, the Department has embraced the new law as an opportunity to provide consumer education on mental health and substance abuse treatment services within the District. To that end, the Department has partnered with DBSA to provide consumer education and training workshops. DBSA presented consumer educational materials and spoke about what the new standards mean for consumers seeking mental health or substance abuse treatment services in the District. The workshops will be held later this summer and will focus on access to services; the workshops also will introduce providers and insurers to effective ways to communicate parity compliance. The Department will promote the workshops as they are scheduled.

Over the next few months, the Department also will promote the new protections that are in place to ensure consumers are able to access mental health and substance abuse treatment services without undue burdens or barriers to care. Contact the Department with questions or concerns about the Parity Act or the Department’s involvement in the oversight of the new standards at (202) 727-8000 or via email at [email protected].