WASHINGTON [9.8.22] – Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn) introduced legislation that would allow the Department of Labor to levy fines against insurance companies who don’t provide coverage for mental health issues—as they are required to do by law. This new authority would incentivize compliance and strengthen the protections of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.
“We need to treat mental health with the same urgency we treat physical health, and that means making sure everyone has access to the care they need,” said Sen. Smith. “This bill would help make mental health care more accessible and affordable by holding insurance companies accountable when they violate mental health parity requirements. I am proud to introduce this legislation, which will bring us one step closer to ensuring everyone has access to quality, affordable mental health care.”
“It’s already the law that insurance companies must cover mental health just like they cover physical health, and yet they’re still finding ways to dodge compliance and deny coverage of care,” said Sen. Murphy. “This bill would give the Department of Labor new tools to enforce mental health parity laws, incentivize compliance, and hold insurers accountable.”
“Empowering our government with tools to hold health plans accountable for equal coverage of mental health and addiction treatment is critical to getting more people on the road to recovery. Most Americans cannot afford to pay for care out of pocket—it’s time we seize the opportunity before us and do what it takes to save lives,” said former Congressman and lead author of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, Patrick J. Kennedy.
“Insurers are required to cover mental health and substance use conditions just as they would any other condition. Yet too often, patients are denied coverage when they need it most,” said Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A., Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention commends Senator Murphy for introducing the Parity Enforcement Act, which will provide the U.S. Department of Labor with expanded oversight authority to ensure compliance with existing federal parity requirements and ultimately increase access to life-saving behavioral health care.”
This law would strengthen the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. The landmark law is named after former Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, who was instrumental in its passage in 2008.
As a member of the Senate Health and Education Committee, Senator Smith is committed to carrying on Senator Wellstone’s legacy and has been a leader in the fight to make mental health care more affordable and accessible. In 2018, Smith passed her bipartisan mental health legislation, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which gives mental health professionals greater flexibility to practice in schools and at community-based organizations. Last year, she introduced the Medicaid Bump Act to expand access to mental health services for low-income families and children, the elderly and people living with disabilities. She has also led efforts to expand mental telehealth services in rural communities, including the Health Care at Home Act, which would provide telehealth parity for mental and physical health services.