R.I. parity awareness initiative takes aim at discrimination by insurance providers
Providence Journal - 12/7/2018
Dec. 07--PROVIDENCE -- Launching a campaign to inform consumers of their rights to insurance coverage for mental-health and addiction services, the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island on Thursday drew attention to state and federal parity laws -- and urged an end to what it called "discrimination" against individuals with mental-health needs by some insurance companies.
"It is time for health insurers to stop the practice of stigmatizing mental illness," MHARI executive director Ruth Feder said during a news conference at Butler Hospital. "Mental illnesses are no less real, no less serious and, often, no less lethal than other medical conditions. We want every Rhode Islander to understand what parity means."
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the "Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 is a federal law that generally prevents group health plans and health insurance issuers that provide mental health or substance use disorder benefits from imposing less favorable benefit limitations on those benefits than on medical/surgical benefits."
Insurers, however, do not universally follow that government mandate, speakers at Thursday's launch of the RI Parity Initiative said.
"I'm not sure many people appreciate how much more difficult it can be for patients who need behavioral health services to get covered," said Sam Salganik, a lawyer with the Rhode Island Parent Information Network. "In-network care is hard to find, numerous subcontractors and intermediaries play complex roles in approving care, and inpatient services sometimes require re-authorization on an almost-daily basis."
The centerpiece of the new campaign is a website, RIParity.org, which includes resources that include help with getting treatment and filing an insurance appeal. "Whether depression or diabetes, anxiety or appendicitis, schizophrenia or scoliosis, alcoholism or asthma, in getting health care, there should be no difference," the site declares.
Consumers facing difficulties obtaining coverage can also access free guidance by calling (401) 270-0101, a hotline housed at the Rhode Island Parent Information Network.
"Too many Rhode Islanders are struggling with mental illness, and I know how difficult it can be for them and their families to reach out for help," Gov. Gina Raimondo said at Thursday's announcement. "But with the right treatment, people can and do get better. That's why the kickoff of the Parity Initiative today is so important: we need to help people think of their mental health the way they think of their physical health."
Said Feder: "Parity is a civil rights issue. For too long, people seeking mental health services, including addiction services, have experienced discrimination. This campaign will work to make sure Rhode Islanders are informed and ready to assert their rights. Every patient has a right to appeal an insurance denial, and most with mental health disorders, including addiction, have special protection under federal and state parity laws."
The RI Parity Initiative is supported with funds from the Rhode Island Foundation, the United Way of Rhode Island, and the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.
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