Stop letting health insurance companies break the law

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only crisis wreaking havoc across America. The addiction and mental health epidemics have a annual death toll three times that of the Vietnam War, and every five minutes an American dies of a drug overdose. This crisis has only worsened throughout the pandemic.

Unfortunately, our current system relies on health insurers taking advantage of their policyholders, actively working to aggravate this national scourge.

Insurance companies flout parity laws aimed at ensuring that mental health patients (which include people with addictions) receive the same level of care and coverage as patients with physical health conditions.

This criminal negligence is killing Americans. The government must strengthen parity laws to end this illegal and inhumane conduct.

As The New York Times reported, the pandemic produced an embarrassment of profits for health insurers, which doubled their revenues from 2019 to the second quarter of 2020. By the second quarter 2021five of the largest US health insurers reported a combined total of more than $11 billion in profits.

Americans have paid for health insurance throughout the pandemic, but have often refused to seek treatment in an effort to minimize exposure to COVID. As a result, many have struggled and succumbed to addiction. According to the CDCan estimated 100,306 Americans died of drug overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021. That’s 28.5% more than the previous year, the highest number on record.

Every 11 minutes, an American commits suicide. Suicide rates rose 33% between 1999 and 2019, killing more than 47,500 in 2019. Before the pandemic, 12 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned an attempt and 1, 4 million have attempted suicide. These numbers have skyrocketed following losses, disconnection and uncertainty during the pandemic.

The combination of drug overdoses and suicide deaths has claimed nearly 150,000 lives in just one year, the equivalent of three Vietnam wars or 50 September 11s.

Where is the public outcry? Why are insurers and politicians silent on this issue? Do they believe that patients are the architects of their own pain?

In 2008, Congress passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act ensure equal treatment coverage for mental illnesses and addictions. This legal protection should make it easier for suppliers to help their customers, but this is not the case. Instead, insurance companies continue to violate parity laws by unlawfully denying or limiting treatment. They are also adding exclusions to coverage for behavioral health services, all in an effort to line their already bloated pockets.

In one recent report from the Department of Labor, four insurers limited or excluded drug treatment for opioid use disorders and had illegal prior authorization or precertification requirements for behavioral health services. Another health plan specifically excluded methadone and naltrexone as treatments for substance use disorders, even though they had no similar restrictions on drugs that treat medical or surgical conditions. Insurance companies are denying service to paying customers, causing irreparable damage to families and communities across the country.

Far too many claimants are simply turned away or denied the life-saving treatment they desperately need. Those forced to leave treatment centers at the first sign of improvement are left to die without a supportive safety net and a clinically supervised transition to recovery.

In one recent class action lawsuit filed against United Behavioral Health Solutions, U.S. Chief Justice Joseph C. Spero found that the company discriminated against patients with mental health and addictions to save money, putting “a excessive emphasis on treating acute symptoms and stabilizing seizures while ignoring effective treatment of underlying limb problems. conditions.” One of the plaintiffs lost her son after being forced out of a residential treatment facility when their insurer denied coverage.

State and federal authorities must serve their constituents and enforce mental health parity laws if we are to have any hope of getting the right care to those who need it most. Insurers must serve their paying customers.

Today, parity laws are applied gently. Last August, United Healthcare was forced to pay $18 million by the Department of Labor and New York State in another case involving parity violations. However, these are just more overhead costs for a company that earns billions. Insurers can afford to let Americans die.

The Parity Enforcement Act was reintroduced on a bipartisan basis in Congress in 2021, and 23 states have now made parity compliance reporting mandatory. But Americans deserve better: we cannot eradicate unfair and illegal practices without significant sanctions. Currently, it is much cheaper for insurance companies to break the rules, pay for a slap on the wrist, and let Americans die in the process.

Insurance companies are financially motivated to take advantage of their customers, and Americans are paying the price with their lives. It is time for that to change.

Kristan F. Talley