Other’s Opinion: Mental health parity needs policing

Published 6:10 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Mankato Free Press 

Why it matters: State regulators have determined that some insurance companies aren’t treating mental health ailments the same as physical ones.

It’s well known that mental health care and access need to be a top priority. Even before the pandemic, that was the case.

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The state of Minnesota’s crackdown on health insurers that aren’t treating mental health care the same as physical ailments is welcome and necessary action. The Department of Commerce is keeping those companies accountable to a public that deserves mental health care parity.

The most recent action, with a consent order signed this month, involved Minnetonka-based Medica being fined $300,000 over allegations the insurer made it harder for mental health patients to obtain benefits than if they sought care for physical health problems. Bloomington-based HealthPartners signed a similar consent order in May that included a $150,000 fine against the insurance company.

The orders also mean the companies will be closely monitored by state regulators to make sure they are treating mental health patients equally. The extra vigilance makes sense to confirm that the companies clean up their act and serve as an example to other insurers.

Many consumers dread dealing with insurance statements when they arrive. They are mysterious, complicated and overwhelming, especially during or on the heels of a medical crisis. The last thing an ailing person needs is for their claim to be unreasonably rejected or not be covered as it should be. That’s a sure formula for exacerbating a mental health condition.

Parity laws have been around for decades — crusader U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone made the issue a top priority and he died more than 20 years ago — but we still have a long way to go to make sure people are getting the access and coverage that they deserve. Stepped-up monitoring and enforcement are necessary to achieve that.