Mental Health Parity in the 2017 Texas Legislative Session

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During the 2017 Texas Regular Legislative Session, lawmakers passed an important bill related to mental health parity (House Bill 10). The new law, signed by Governor Abbott, aims to address ongoing challenges with mental health and substance use disorder “parity” protections. The goal is for more insured Texans have equal access to both physical health care and care for mental health and substance use disorder needs. The new law takes effect September 1, 2017, though full implementation will take more time. This policy brief looks at why Texas needed HB 10, and how the new law will help improve access to care for people in need of mental health and substance use disorder services.

In health care, “parity” describes the equal treatment of mental health conditions and substance use disorders by insurance plans, when compared to coverage for physical health care. When a plan has “parity” it means that health insurance coverage of mental health is equal to coverage for physical health. For example, if an insurer provides unlimited doctor visits for a condition like diabetes, then the insurer should also provide unlimited doctor’s visits for mental health conditions like depression or schizophrenia. It is important to note that “parity” requires equal coverage, not necessarily good or comprehensive coverage.

HB 10: The Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Bill

Representative Four Price (R-Amarillo) authored HB 10 and Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) sponsored the bill in the Senate. HB 10 addresses mental health and substance use disorder parity from four angles:

  1. Regulation and enforcement: HB 10 expands TDI’s authority to enforce the requirements of the federal parity law and regulations for all health insurance plans regulated by the state, making sure to include both quantitative treatment limitations, like visit limits and copays, and non-quantitative limitations, like reviews for medical necessity.
  2. Collecting Data: HB 10 calls for collecting data related to certain potential non-quantitative treatment limits to help all stakeholders better understand consumers’ experiences with accessing health care.
  3. Stakeholder workgroup: HB 10 brings stakeholders together for dialog about mental health parity and cross-agency collaboration, establishing a workgroup to develop a Texas strategy and common understanding for successful compliance with parity.
  4. Consumer assistance: HB 10 creates a central location with designated staff to help and improve consumer assistance to Texans who encounter obstacles when trying to access MH/SUD services, including consumers who encounter mental health parity violations.

Mental health parity laws hold great promise in helping Texans access needed health care to achieve recovery, but that promise of parity has not yet been fully realized. HB 10 helps to address ongoing challenges with oversight, data collection, cross-agency collaboration, and consumer assistance. All of these pieces working together will help ensure that more Texans have equal access to mental health and other health care services through their health insurance plans.

Read the full brief here.

Monica Villarreal joined the Center in 2016 as a Hogg Mental Health Policy Fellow. She has previously worked on advocacy for disability issues and has policy experience from working at Disability Rights Texas and the American institutes for Research. Villarreal is a native of Monterrey Mexico and moved to Austin in 2010 to attend school at the University of Texas at Austin where she received a bachelor’s degree in Government and Latin American Studies and a Master’s of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

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