KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: Another Try for Mental Health ‘Parity’

by | Jul 27, 2023 | Health

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The Biden administration continued a bipartisan, decades-long effort to ensure that health insurance treats mental illnesses the same as other ailments, with a new set of regulations aimed at ensuring that services are actually available without years-long waits or excessive out-of-pocket costs.

Meanwhile, two more committees in Congress approved bills this week aimed at reining in the power of pharmacy benefit managers, who are accused of keeping prescription drug prices high to increase their bottom lines.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Anna Edney of Bloomberg, Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Politico, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

The Biden administration’s new rules to enforce federal mental health parity requirements include no threat of sanctions when health plans do not comply; noncompliance with even the most minimal federal rules has been a problem dating to the 1990s. Improving access to mental health care is not a new policy priority, nor a partisan one, yet it remains difficult to achieve.

With the anniversary of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, more people are becoming aware of how to access help and get it. Challenges remain, however, such as the hotline service’s inability to connect callers with local care. But the program seizes on the power of an initial connection for someone in a moment of crisis and offers a lifeline for a nation experiencing high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

In news about the so-called Medicaid unwinding, 12 states have paused disenrollment efforts amid concerns they are not following renewal requirements. A major consideration is that most people who are disenrolled would qualify to obtain inexpensive or even free coverage through the Affordable Care Act. But reenrollment can be challenging, particularly for those with language barriers or housing insecurity, for instance.

With a flurry of committee activity, Congress is revving up to pass legislation by year’s end targeting the role of pharmacy benefit managers — and, based on the advertisements blanketing Washington, PBMs are nervous. It appears legislation would increase transparency and inform policymakers as they contemplate further, more substantive changes. That could be a tough sell to a public crying out for relief from high health care costs.

Also on Capitol Hill, far-right lawmakers are pushing to insert abortion rest …

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