Republicans reject Murphy’s amendment to opioid commission

During a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee markup of the Opioid Crisis Response Act on Tuesday, Republicans voted down an amendment authored by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to hold insurance companies and employers accountable for not covering mental health and addiction treatment. Murphy’s amendment was based on recommendations issued by President Trump’s opioid commission. It would have given the U.S. Department of Labor – a major regulator of health insurance – new tools to enforce existing parity laws, including allowing the Department to issue civil monetary penalties against insurance companies and employers that do not cover mental health and addiction services at the same rate as physical health benefits. The amendment failed by a vote of 11 to 12.

Earlier this month, Murphy questioned U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta over unequal insurance coverage of mental health and addiction services. Secretary Acosta specifically asked for these new tools to be included in Murphy’s amendment. 90 different national and state organizations who represent mental health and addiction providers and stakeholders sent a letter in support of the provisions included in Murphy’s amendment.

“We all know from talking to our constituents that there is still not parity today—that too many families are running into unconscionable obstacles when trying to get their insurance companies to pay for addiction treatment. … Too often insurance companies are paying much higher rates for physical health providers than for mental health providers or putting all sorts of red tape in front of the recovery of benefits for people with addiction,” said Murphy.

Murphy continued, “My hope is that…we’ll be able to vote favorably upon these new tools to make sure that the parity law isn’t just on the books—that it is actually effectively enforced.”

Murphy is a co-author of the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2016. Among other things, the new law strengthened enforcement of mental health and addiction parity laws, promoted integrated mental health and physical health, and established new programs to assist those with, or at risk for, mental illness.

Murphy’s remarks at the HELP committee meeting are below:

MURPHY: “We are going to be voting on an amendment that I had hoped would go by voice vote or be included in the base bill. And my hope is due to the fact that this is a change in law that has been requested of this committee by the Trump administration. On several different occasions, Secretary Acosta has asked for this change, and it was included in the Trump opioid commission’s report of requested statutory changes. What it does is give the Department of Labor the ability to more fully enforce the existing mental health parity law. We all know from talking to our constituents that there is still not parity today—that too many families are running into unconscionable obstacles when trying to get their insurance companies to pay for addiction treatment.

“We also know through several studies that there continues to be rampant discrimination. Too often insurance companies are paying much higher rates for physical health providers than for mental health providers or putting all sorts of red tape in front of the recovery of benefits for people with addiction. The Department of Labor—Secretary Acosta—has asked for two new tools. He’d like to be able to enforce the parity law against insurers, not just against employers. He now has to go after each individual insurance plan, rather than go after the insurer that is offering them. And he’s asked for civil monetary penalties as well. We actually included civil monetary penalty language in a bill we passed just a few years ago, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA). I just think it’s important to note that those penalties have never been used, but the Secretary believes that the threat of those penalties helps him get compliance from the companies, so we mirrored that language in our underlying amendment.

“I’d like to enter into the record a letter of support from 90 different groups who represent people in recovery and with addiction. My hope is that with this unique partnership with the Trump administration, the Secretary of Labor, the Trump opioid commission, and these 90 groups that we’ll be able to vote favorably upon these new tools to make sure that the parity law isn’t just on the books—that it is actually effectively enforced.”

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