The first parity lawsuit hits - expect more to come

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The Children's Mental Health Network was not surprised to read about the first class-action lawsuit under the 2008 mental health parity law. The New York State Psychiatric Association and a group of employees have filed suit, alleging that United Health Group has violated that statute and the national health reform law.

According to the plaintiffs — which also include employees of the State University of New York, CBS and Sysco — United routinely violates federal and state anti-discrimination laws protecting access to mental health services, uses sham practices to avoid claims processing and engages in other deceptive business practices. The bottom line, the plaintiffs say, is lack of access to necessary mental health care.

Folks, we are going to see more of this. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the health care law is designed to improve Americans’ access to psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health providers by requiring insurers to cover mental health care and pay for it on the same level as physical health services. Parity, in and of itself, however, is not enough. Read our recent take on parity here. If you really want to immerse yourself in the ins and outs of parity, read our back articles here.

“Despite United’s duty to adhere to these antidiscrimination safeguards, United has systematically implemented unlawful and deceptive practices designed to create the illusion of impartiality, fairness, and due process while simultaneously undermining access to treatment for the most vulnerable segment of our society,” the lawsuit says.

Gotta hold some feet to the fire, folks. Celebrating parity, which still does not have the teeth it needs to ensure access to a wider array of services with quality controls, is not enough.

The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcarel has just released a great email that focuses on what you can do to share your thoughts about parity with your elected officials. We are including it here verbatim. Remember to add examples from your personal experience that may be in addition to the examples included in the Council email.

Reminder - the text below this point was produced by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. Nice job Council!

Share your story about potential parity violations to improve compliance

To assist you with understanding the common problems with parity that other providers or consumers have registered, see the below examples:

  1. Outpatient sessions are being limited by utilization review (also known as medical necessity review) and this is not being done for medical and surgical conditions.
  2. Provider reimbursement rates are too low, so the provider has to offer services out-of-network and the patient has to pay a higher out of pocket for their treatment.
  3. The insurance company has labeled my treatments as “experimental” and therefore are refusing to pay for those treatments, leaving the patient to pay 100% out of pocket, or go without.
  4. The insurance company says that my plan does not cover residential treatment or intensive outpatient care.
  5. The insurance company says that my plan does not cover inpatient or residential treatment unless it is provided in an acute care hospital, but most of the treatment providers are non-hospital based facilities.
  6. The insurance company says that they do not authorize any inpatient treatment at all for my opioid addiction, and that I must detox on an outpatient basis.  
  7. I have requested from my insurance company the reason why they have denied my care and they will either not respond to my requests for further information, or they refuse to tell me what they do for medical and surgical care, or they refer me to an enormous website that I cannot discern any information from.

Send your e-mail to:

Be sure to also send a copy of your message to!

You can, in addition to your e-mail, place your complaint over the phone by calling the Department of Labor at 866-444-3272 or the Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Insurance Information and Oversight at 877-267-2323 ext 61565. Be sure to obtain a tracking number for your complaint to be sure it is actually registered in their system and so that you can track your complaint. 

Sample E-Mail Template     
I am writing to submit a possible violation of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA).  My [health plan/my patient’s health plan] has imposed discriminatory limits on [my/his/her] [addiction/mental health] benefits that I do not believe are imposed on medical benefits.  I have attached a copy of the denial letter (if there is one).

[Insert personal story; and if you can, please include details such as the specific service(s) the plan is not covering.]

Please inform me of any processes or procedures I must take to have this complaint filed and registered in your system. Please provide me with a tracking number so that I may track my complaint.

Should you require additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at [phone number].  I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Thank you for your attention in helping me to resolve this complaint, so that I can access treatment services I need [or so that I can assist my patient in accessing medically necessary services], as intended by the federal parity law.

Sample Phone Script
I am calling to report what I believe is a violation of
the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA).  My [health plan/my patient’s health plan] has imposed discriminatory limits on [my/his/her] [addiction/mental health] benefits that I do not believe are not imposed on medical benefits.  The plan is not covering [tell them specific service(s)]. 

Please tell me what I must to do have this registered as a formal complaint under MHPAEA and what the next steps will be toward resolving it.

Click the link below to view this message on the web:


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