Consistency of Large Employer and Group Health Plan Benefits with Requirements of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Appendix E. Detailed Interview Responses by Topic


The responses from the seven participating companies are listed below. These responses have been de-identified, and within each section they are randomly sorted and given the name of Company A, B, C, D, E, F, or G.

Medical Necessity Criteria

  • Company A uses McKesson's InterQual criteria for all behavioral health services. Many behavioral health facilities use these criteria internally, which allows for better coordination with Company A. InterQual criteria are updated regularly. The updates are added to Company A's electronic system for review of claims and requests for services. The system enables Company A's staff to explain a denial to providers over the telephone. Upon request, Company A will send the InterQual criteria on paper to a provider or member.

    In some cases, Company A has developed criteria of its own. For example, within the area of residential treatment programs Company A has decided that it will not cover wilderness residential programs.

  • Nearly all of the various health plans with which Company B works use medical necessity criteria for behavioral health services. Some health plans had moved away from medical necessity criteria for medical care in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but in 2008-2009 the plans started moving back to using them. After passage of MHPAEA, the utilization of medical necessity criteria for behavioral health plans dropped to the point that it equaled the use of such criteria in medical plans. Having achieved that equilibrium, any future changes in medical necessity criteria will affect behavioral health and medical benefits equally.

  • Company C uses its own medical necessity criteria that were developed in combination with other available criteria and expert opinion. Company C uses McKesson InterQual criteria for a couple of accounts. For the public sector, it uses state-specific criteria. It uses ASAM criteria for substance abuse services. Company C's criteria are updated each year.

    The PPACA has had a greater effect on medical necessity criteria than the MHPAEA, because the PPACA requires that health plans provide the criteria to their members. There is some worry about copyright restrictions on sharing this information.

  • There are several sets of medical necessity criteria. In general, Company D uses guidelines from McKesson InterQual for specialized psychiatric treatment and MH services. It also generally uses ASAM criteria for the substance abuse services. States may require a specific set of medical necessity criteria for certain services, such as community-based services. One state with which Company D works is an exception to the norm of using InterQual and ASAM criteria, in that it requires the use of its own internally created medical necessity criteria. Sister health plans also use McKesson InterQual as well Milliman Care Guidelines. None of these practices have changed because of the parity law.

  • Company E has home-grown medical necessity criteria that are updated yearly. Each year they give the professional community the opportunity to comment on them. In 2010, Company E redesigned their medical necessity criteria. Before 2010 the criteria were calledlevel of care guidelines. The parity law has not changed Company E's medical necessity criteria, but it has changed the circumstance in which the criteria are applied. For example, if an account does not provide utilization management services for medical inpatients, then Company E is unable to provide utilization management services for behavioral health at this level of care.

    Medical necessity criteria are shared with individuals upon request. They are also made available to the public on Company E's website.

  • Under health plan contracts, Company F is obligated to use the medical necessity criteria specific to the member's health plan. Some health plans use McKesson's InterQual criteria, whereas others have developed their own. If a health plan lacks medical necessity criteria for behavioral health, Company F may use its own. Medical necessity criteria have not changed with the implementation of the parity law.

  • Company G develops behavioral health medical necessity criteria in a manner similar to that used by health plans to develop criteria for medical/surgical criteria. Company G likewise reviews new technologies on a similar schedule and with similar criteria. This has not changed since the parity law (MHPAEA) went into effect. Some of Company G's senior clinical leaders were with full service health plans previously, so the organization had already adopted clinical practices aligned with those of medical care.

    Company G has developed its own medical necessity criteria that incorporates feedback from outside consultants (e.g., physicians, psychologists), and these criteria are reviewed and updated annually. Some states, however, require Company G to use the ASAM criteria or medical necessity criteria that were created by the state.

Informing About Claim Denials

  • Company A's patients are notified of claim denials through EOB statements and adverse determination letters. DOL rules and state law dictate the content and timing of the letters. The letters state the reason(s) for denial. The letters were affected by PPACA but not by MHPAEA. The rules apply equally to behavioral health services and medical services.

    Denial rates have always been low; less than 1% of outpatient claims were denied even before MHPAEA. Denying care does not manage a person's treatment. The goal is to shape treatment rather than deny it.

  • If the claim is denied, Company B sends a letter explaining the reason for denial to the provider and to the member. The process has not changed since implementation of the parity law.

  • There are two major types of claim denials: administrative denials (e.g., a denial for a service that is not covered or that is not filed in time) and a medical necessity denial.

    Company C has not seen changes in the claim denial process since the implementation of the parity law. What is influencing this process is the PPACA, which is changing the regulations on what is contained in the EOBs and denial letters, how quickly the company must respond, and the beneficiary's options in such a situation.

    It is standard protocol to give the patient a written letter of denial.

  • If a provider submits a claim and the claim is denied then Company D will send a written notice to the provider as well as the member receiving treatment. If the claim is submitted by the member directly, and the claim is denied, then the denial would be communicated just to the member. These denials would take place after a claim is submitted. Denials can be sent in advance of services being rendered where an authorization requirement applies and the request is submitted for authorization in advance of the services. If the request is urgent and comes prior to the service, the explanation of will be verbal followed by a letter. If it occurs after the service has been offered, notification happens through an EOB form. Parity has not changed this process.

  • If a claim or treatment request has been denied, a notice in writing is provided to the practitioner with a copy to the member. The content of the letters and timeline for when they are distributed are dictated by the states in which Company E operates. There is some variance on the required response timeline based on level of care and whether the treatment is life threatening or urgent. In general, the letters must contain both a reason for denial and the criteria that were used for deciding that the treatment request was denied.

    Separately, seven of Company E's markets require distribution of an EOB be sent to both the practitioners and members once the claim for services rendered to the member is adjudicated. Company E also started a process to help identify fraud; it sends EOBs to a random sample of members to see if the members call back to confirm that the treatment did not take place. In addition, Company E routinely calls individuals to discuss claims that it suspects are fraudulent as a means of confirming whether the services billed were actually provided.

  • Company F is delegated by some plans to carry out the denial process. It provides letters to members and providers. First level appeals always go through the health plan. Clinical denials also have to go through the medical director for his or her review. Once the medical director has reviewed the denial and agreed that it should take place, the process switches to helping the member understand the right to appeal. Company F shares with their members how the claims denial process works. Company F also assists with complaints and grievances.

    Parity has not changed the claims denial process. The PPACA has had a greater effect on this process because it has required changes in the language of the denial letters and the timeframe for appeals of the denials.

  • An ABD letter is sent out immediately once a benefit denial is issued when a treatment request does not meet medical necessity criteria. EOBs are sent out when a claim has been submitted. If the request for services was not authorized due to a Medical necessity denial, this will be documented on the EOB as a reason for non-payment. The timeframe and language of these letters are determined primarily by DOL regulations established in 2000. Further changes to this process may come from the PPACA regulations. For Company G, no changes have occurred to this process as a result of the MHPAEA, as all the requirements in MHPAEA were already met by adopting the DOL standards.

Utilization Management Techniques

  • For Company A, medical management depends on the plan with which it is working.

    The definition of prior authorization varies. In some cases it is merely notification for the sake of patient registration. In other cases it involves free determination of clinical necessity. Retrospective review occurs when prior review was not possible. Outlier managementis when plans start to manage after the 20thsession of outpatient counseling because at that point the patient becomes an outlier from the norm (the norm is only about eight sessions). Concurrent review is often used for behavioral health services, but it is rarely used for medical outpatient care. Examples of outpatient medical care that would have concurrent review include physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, home health services, and skilled nursing services.

    Company A has seen that most behavioral health plans apply some form of concurrent review, particularly for inpatient services and in some form for outpatient services. Since MHPAEA, Company A has had to look closely at what happens on the medical side. Inpatient medical services are managed and paid quite differently from behavioral health services. Typical medical inpatient stays are paid via DRGs, so payment does not depend on length of stay. With behavioral health services, however, there is much broader variability and DRG methods are not used. Based on a subjective determination of necessity, a decision will be made about allowable length of stays. Company A has had to study medical processes and try to align with behavioral health processes and services. Company A is moving in the direction of retrospective review to meet parity. Retrospective review occurs after treatment is completed but before the provider is reimbursed. Company A sees a downside -- less certainty for patient and provider about funding. Prior authorization does not exist as often on the medical side, so Company A has moved away from it for behavioral health services. They stated that this "seems perverse" but they do not see an option.

    For outpatient medical care the situation is even worse, because very few routine outpatient services require prior authorization. With routine behavioral health services they now typically cannot require preauthorization for outpatient care because it is not used for medical services. This was removed because of MHPAEA. Only non-routine outpatient, specialized services require preauthorization, such as ECT and psychological testing. This is similar to non-routine outpatient medical services such as ambulatory surgery.

    Before parity, there was a single standard within each carrier, mostly, for prior authorization. The parity law requires that behavioral health match the particular medical plan to which the patient belongs. Thus, rules about prior authorization will vary by patient within the same carrier if two patients belong to different plans with different rules for prior authorization of medical care. This adds complexity to administration for the providers.

  • Previous to the parity law health plans often wanted to precertify all behavioral health outpatient services. In response to MHPAEA, there is no requirement for precertification for outpatient in Company B. Physicians and other medication prescribers are never required to precertify and are not subjected to any review concurrently. For other behavioral health professionals who provide psychotherapy services, there are periodic quality checks, designed to insure that medications are being used when indicated, and communication with other professionals and family members are maintained. Company B periodically requests this quality information from professionals to identify enrollees that are not receiving treatment according to best practice clinical guidelines.

    As a provider seeks recertification for treating a patient, he or she must fill out a form and report on some quality indicators. For example, if the patient is an adolescent then the provider will need to report whether they are working with the parents of the patient. The provider must give an explanation if he or she has not done this. Similarly, if an individual has anorexia the provider may be asked if he or she has coordinated with the patient's medical provider. Company B works with the providers to established coordinated care for patients. In the contract that network physicians sign there is a clause that states that they will cooperate with Company B on issues of quality. If a provider does not cooperate, for example with coordinating with other providers that treat the same patient, then the provider may not be reauthorized to provide services for the patient. If this happens, Company B will attempt to contact the member to arrange further care.

    Prior to the parity law, Company B spent much time managing the initiation of treatment for its enrollees. This is no longer the case. Some treatments, however, are still managed from the very beginning. For example, applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is managed closely from the beginning, as the state mandates intensive treatment (up to 40 treatment hours each week) to be approved in blocks of 6-12 months. Health plans manage speech therapy and physical therapy for those with autism, but Company B manages ABA. Before starting ABA, Company B verifies that the member has autism, that the member has been evaluated appropriately for the functional disabilities related to autism, and that the treatment the member is seeking falls within ABA guidelines that are usually set by the state. The mandates from the states usually specify whether autism should be is considered a behavioral health or medical condition.

    Since most accounts manage medical inpatient care, Company B also manages behavioral health inpatient care for those plans. In one large plan, Company B does not manage inpatient behavioral health because the plan does not manage inpatient medical services. For this account Company B still conducts quality reviews of the inpatient services; however, it does not do any other utilization review (e.g., concurrent review). Parity has had no other major effects on utilization management of inpatient services.

  • Company C uses the standard non-qualitative treatment limitations (NQTLs) of prior authorization, concurrent and retrospective review, and case management. States generally set the quantitative limits but do not impose requirements for prior authorization and the use of other NQTLs. These have not changed since the parity law was enacted.

    Company C worked with Milliman to conduct a review of several markets and to examine how parity regulations from the CMS might change its work. Milliman determined that Company B met the parity test with regard to NQTLs across two sample markets.

  • The largest changes stemming from the parity law have been in management of outpatient services. Since implementation of the law, Company D has developed an open-access registration model for outpatient services. Company D assists members with access and referral to services. For example, if an individual calls before receiving a service, Company D will check the person's eligibility and may conduct clinical triage. However, Company D no longer engages in utilization management for routine services. It manages a few psychological outpatient services, but they are not routine or typical.

    In place of utilization management for outpatient services, since 2010 Company D has focused on operational review and quality management. It looks for claims that fall outside of normal practice: outliers, multiple visits per week, and other potential patterns of fraud, waste, or abuse. For example, if an individual is receiving treatment for longer than normal given his or her diagnosis, Company D will contact the provider. If the care falls outside of good clinical practice or does not meet medical necessity criteria and the provider continues to offer the treatment, Company D will prospectively deny claims from that provider for treatment of the individual. Because Company D tries to speak with the provider first, there have been relatively few cases where it has prospectively denied claims.

    For outpatient care, Company D has replaced most preauthorization with quality management. Before the parity law was implemented, an extensive amount of time was spent reviewing requests for outpatient treatment. Now, almost all time is spent on intensive follow-up reviews of the process and quality of services being provided.

    Company D does not conduct concurrent review or retrospective review for routine outpatient services. Concurrent review refers to the practice of checking whether medical necessity criteria continue to be met as the member receives a service. For inpatient services, a concurrent review typically takes place every 2-3 days; for outpatient services it will take place every eight sessions or every 15-20 sessions, depending on the plan. Retrospective review is also conducted. With both concurrent and retrospective review, the claim is paid only if it passes the review. Under quality management, however, Company D will pay a claim as long as the services are covered under the member's benefit package. The review process can be performed even after a claim has been processed. If an outlier is identified, Company D tries to resolve it prospectively with the provider so that treatment will not continue if deemed inappropriate.

    Company D requires preauthorization for inpatient services but not for emergency department services. For inpatient care it conducts utilization review of several kinds, including preauthorization, concurrent reviews, and some retrospective reviews. Company D may conduct a peer reviewif an individual does not appear to be making progress with treatment based on information gathered during a concurrent review. In this case, the medical director of Company D speaks with the attending physician about the patient. Peer review has reduced the number of denials because Company D is able to get more complete information about the individual. This process has not changed with implementation of the parity law.

  • Prior to the parity law there were varying session limits for different types of treatment. These limits were eliminated in response to the parity law, and use of these services has increased slightly since then. Company E anticipated this result. To offset the cost of more encounters, Company E began to manage practice patterns rather than the treatment of individual members. In the earlier system, a provider obtained authorization prior to starting treatment and reauthorization after every 8-10 sessions. Among providers that serve enough of its members, Company E now looks only at the average length of treatment for its members. If the average meets a certain standard, Company E takes a hands-off approach -- eliminating the requirement for reauthorization. If providers do not meet the standard or have patients with extremely long lengths of treatment, Company E may move these providers to a lower tier within their network. Providers in the lower tier do not receive referrals from Company E.

    In conjunction with parity, but not necessarily as a result of it, Company E has also established a similar program with facilities. Facilities that meet certain standards -- such as no member complaints and good member follow-up -- still need prior authorization, but they are exempt from concurrent review. This incentivizes facilities to have good outcomes and to partner with Company E.

    Company E has reduced its use of authorization and concurrent review through this process, leaving it similar to its associated medical plans. Although Company E has seen a slight increase in utilization because of the parity law, it has been able to reduce costs associated with authorizations through this new approach.

  • The impact of MHPAEA on care management practices has varied by plan. Company F is moving away from requiring precertification (preauthorization) for all outpatient procedures. Company F instead tries to steer these services toward outlier management. Precertification may be retained for certain disorders or procedures, such as ECT for major depression. Company F has proprietary algorithms for identifying outliers. The program involves outreach calls, primarily to the provider, in an attempt to shape the treatment. If treatment is not progressing appropriately, a utilization management program may be implemented on case-by-case basis to ensure medical necessity; this would happen at around 20 sessions of treatment. (Note that the average outpatient case resolves during 6-8 sessions.) Similarly, health plans with which Company F works typically manage outliers rather than require precertification for medical services that are reoccurring and may continue for long periods (e.g., physical therapy, radiology, or skilled nursing). The health plans also manage some of these services with visit limits, but this is not an option that Company F can utilize because of parity.

    Under-utilization can also be a problem because it increases the likelihood of an inpatient stay. For example, if an individual with a severe mental illness like schizophrenia is receiving outpatient visits but no medication management, Company F may call their provider to encourage use of medications.

    Precertification is typically required for both behavioral health and medical non-emergent inpatient care. Other care management techniques include concurrent and retrospective reviews. Concurrent review is used only for inpatient care. Retrospective review mostly applies to inpatient care and to out-of-network outpatient care. Inpatient behavioral health providers have an incentive to keep patients longer because they are paid a per-diem rate. These types of reviews are less needed for medical stays because the DRG payment system does not offer more money for an extra day of stay. In most plans, inpatient behavioral health services and inpatient medical services -- at least those not reimbursed through DRGs -- are reviewed with the same frequency through a concurrent review process. DRGs cover most but not all medical/surgical conditions.

  • For Company G, the parity law has changed how they use preauthorization, concurrent review, and retroactive review.

    Before the law almost everything required preauthorization, but parity has stripped behavioral health plans from preauthorization. There are still some services that require preauthorization, but these are generally more specialized services.

    For the medical side there has been no change in preauthorization. A challenge is with mental or behavioral disorders that require both physical and behavioral health treatment (e.g., anorexia). The medical field can do more preauthorization and utilization management if needed, but the behavioral health organizations are responsible for these individuals and are limited by the parity law to do more utilization management.

    Company G now uses an outlier process where the preauthorization begins after a certain number of visits. Parity allows for clinical exceptions where there is a clinically appropriate reason to try a different treatment.

    Company G stated that one challenge with parity is that it does not require behavioral health services to be covered. At times behavioral health services may be excluded for other add-ons. Parity is now a big part of plan design and in considering how plans will incorporate utilization management.

Managing Out-of-Network Care

  • Company A does not manage out-of-network benefits. If it needed a provider outside of its network, it would negotiate a single-case agreement to purchase the necessary services for the member.

  • Management of out-of-network care has changed with the implementation of parity. Prior to the law, Company B had several commercial accounts that offered out-of-network options that were not managed. With the implementation of parity, more commercial accounts have needed to offer more out-of-network care to be comparable to physical health benefits. Many more commercial accounts are now managing their out-of-network accounts. Company B uses processes for managing out-of-network care that are similar to those used for in-network care, such as notification, concurrent review, and retrospective review. Retrospective review is most frequently used for out-of-network care. No level of care now requires prior authorization, so Company B instead uses notification.

  • For Company C certain types of out-of-network providers are problematic, such as wilderness programs and resort-like substance abuse treatment facilities. There is little incentive for these out-of-network providers to cooperate, and they often do not cooperate with retrospective review. Prior to parity, many plans limited behavioral health services to credentialed in-network facilities.

  • Company D is obligated to meet minimum network access standards, meaning that at least a certain percentage of patients using behavioral health services through Medicaid must use contracted (par) providers. The percentage threshold varies by market. Some states set a threshold and require monitoring of claims received from non-par providers. Company D tries to redirect members to access par providers. In some cases it establishes single-case agreements with a non-par provider, essentially making it a par provider for the sake of one plan member.

    Enrollees may access non-par providers directly and may self-refer to care. However, once the provider conducts an initial assessment, the patient would need authorization by Company D to be reimbursed for any further services. Single-case agreements are established if they promote continuity of care. For example, if a new member has been working with a non-par provider, Company D will establish a single-case agreement to maintain continuity of care. Prior authorization is required if an individual seeks treatment outside of the state where he or she has public health insurance.

    Company D conducts an ongoing analysis of the need to expand provider options for its members.

  • Company E was not asked about managing out-of-network services.

  • Previous to parity, Company F had day limits on out-of-network services. These limits have now been removed. The strategy of most plans is to provide incentives for individuals to receive in-network rather than out-of-network care. They do this by having lower copayments and cost-sharing for in-network care.

    With regard to non-quantitative services, health plans have had to move away from prior authorization for out-of-network care. As a result more retrospective review is used instead of prior authorization. This has been a challenge for providers because they want prior authorization to ensure that they will be paid for the services they provide.

    Company F conducts a targeted retrospective review of claims for out-of-network services. They examine practice patterns of providers. For example, they may look to see if a certain diagnosis was needed before a treatment was provided to an individual. If Company F finds a procedure that is not acceptable, it typically works with the provider to change things prospectively rather than retrospectively.

    There has been more change for outpatient rather than inpatient NQTLs for out-of-network care because of the removal of prior authorization for outpatient services. Many behavioral health inpatient services still maintain prior authorization, because this is comparable to the procedures for physical health services.

  • The same utilization management techniques for in-network services are used for out-of-network services. The difference is that some contracts do not cover out-of-network benefits. In these cases Company G will inform the provider if he or she calls in with a treatment request.

    There may have been a slight increase in the use of out-of-network services; however, Company G did not have any statistics to share.

Demand for Residential or Intensive Outpatient Substance Abuse Care

  • Company A has not seen an increase in utilization or demand for residential services. With the establishment of parity, customers actually wanted to exclude residential care. They asked Company A if they were mandated to include it or not, and Company A informed them that from a legal perspective they could exclude it if they were including other inpatient services. However, Company A explained to them that it would not be cost effective to exclude residential care. Company A explained that by excluding residential services the customers would be removing part of a continuum of care, and some individuals might need that specific level of care to prevent them from multiple acute inpatient visits that over time cost more than residential services. Company A explained to their customers that it would be unwise to exclude residential services. Customers did some analyses and came to the same conclusion.

    Parity has impacted the day limitations with residential services. Residential services were categorized as inpatient services that do not have any day limits. Some customers wanted to compare residential services to SNFs, because SNFs have day limits; however, they could make this comparison based on the parity law because a SNF is not one of the six categories of services that are the basis for comparison between MH and physical health services. Customers needed to classify these services as inpatient services.

    Intensive outpatient (IOP) care is slightly different from residential care. It is an intermediate level of care; some customers classified IOP care as an inpatient service and others classified it as an outpatient service. Customers are responsible for disclosing how they are categorizing IOP care so that parity between mental and physical health services can be established.

    Company A has not seen an increase in demand or utilization with IOP. For those that treat IOP as an inpatient service, the day limits are excluded. It is a greater struggle to meet the parity requirements when IOP is classified as an outpatient service, because IOP is not a standard outpatient therapy. For example, it is unclear how to establish parity with copayments for IOP programs because individuals will be attending the program 3-5 days per week. It would be costly to patients if they were required to pay a $25 copayment for these visits. Company A's recommendation has been that individuals should be required to pay a copayment for the course of treatment or, if copayment is paid by the visit, the individuals should be required to pay a smaller copayment (e.g., $5 per visit).

    There has possibly been a modest increase in the length of stay or number of days these services are provided; however, Company A did not know at the time of the interview how much these figures have changed, if at all.

  • Company B was not asked about residential treatment and IOPs.

  • Company C has had no significant increase in the request for residential treatment services.

    Especially for out-of-network care, but also to some extent for in-network residential care, individuals making calls to check the coverage of a residential service speak with a clinician to ensure that the client meets medical necessity criteria and the residential service of interest is covered under the member's benefit package. This is to avoid the problem of parents sending their youths to an outdoor leadership residential program (e.g., Outward Bound), and then calling the company and finding out that the residential service is not covered.

    Company C has not seen an increase in the utilization of structured outpatient services for substance abuse. It has, however, seen an expansion in the length of treatment. Previously clinicians were seeing individuals 3 days per week, but now they are seeing them 5-7 days per week. Previously structured outpatient programs lasted a total of 10-12 days, but now they are lasting 20-25 days. This increase has persisted even with reviews to ensure that the enrollees meet medical necessity criteria.

  • Some states have recently expanded the scope of their benefit package to include more behavioral health services. One of Company D's markets recently added substance abuse services, such as intensive outpatient services, to its benefit package in order to more fully comply with the parity law. Another market expanded its CHIP benefits to include more behavioral health services.

    Other than the states that have recently started to cover intensive outpatient services and other behavioral health services, Company D has not seen any significant change in the demand for or utilization of residential and intensive outpatient services among public insurance plans.

  • Company E has seen an increase in the number of 21-26 year olds being admitted to chemical dependency programs. This is due to the PPACA regulation that allows young adults up to the age of 26 to be covered under their parents' insurance plans.

    There has not been a significant change in the utilization of residential treatment services. Most plans that Company E works with do not cover residential services. Some plans have tried to compare RTFs to SNFs; however, SNFs are not one of the six areas of coverage defined by HHS. Coverage of residential treatment services has not changed with the implementation of the parity law.

    Most plans cover IOP services and did so even before the parity law. Company E has not noticed more people using IOP services. Even with the removal of QTLs the length of IOP programs has not increased significantly to this time. It has, however, allowed for individuals who have a relapse after finishing the program to go through the program again.

    An FEHBP that Company E works with is currently experimenting with not managing partial hospitalization and IOPs. In the next couple of years the health plan will evaluate this experimental program.

  • With Company F, the utilization of residential treatment and intensive outpatient services has not changed since MHPAEA went into effect; however, now more patients seek to use out-of-network facilities. The day limitations for residential treatment have not changed significantly, because even before the implementation of the parity law most plans did not set day limitations for residential treatment.

  • Recently, Company G has seen more requests for residential treatment. In particular, more individuals are requesting to initiate treatment at the residential level. Company G noted that there have been more licensed and available residential facilities in the state where it works in recent years. The length of stay has not changed notably.

    Company G has also seen growth in partial hospitalization IOP services in recent years. In the public sector IOP services are commonly considered outpatient services, whereas in the commercial sector they are frequently classified as inpatient services. IOP is often billed as a daily facility charge or a bundled payment. IOP services are an important part of the treatment continuum, especially for those with chemical dependency.

Management of Prescriptions

  • Company A does not manage prescriptions for commercial accounts; however, it does manage prescriptions for some public accounts. Nothing has changed in Company A's management of prescriptions for public accounts because public Medicaid accounts do not yet fall under the parity law.

  • Company B does not manage prescriptions.

  • Company C does not manage prescriptions. Its associated health plans contract with a pharmacy benefit manager. The manager administers the contract, pays pharmacy claims, establishes networks, and manages prior authorizations. Company C directs providers to the manager when they have issues about access to pharmacies or use of specific drugs.

    The states establish formularies for publicly funded plans. If a state has not established a formulary, the health plan will establish a formulary to use.

    The health plans with which Company C works have examined the parity of the pharmacy benefits it manages. It found that step-therapy-- covering a medication only after one or more alternatives have been tried without success -- was applied consistently across all drug categories. The health plans also found parity in the pharmacy benefits for psychiatric drugs relative to other drugs.

  • Company D does not manage prescriptions and has not tried to ensure parity in medication coverage. That task would fall to any PBM firm hired by the plan. Most behavioral health medications are prescribed by primary care providers, who are not within the behavioral health carve-out; thus, Company D would not be well placed to manage their prescribing. Moreover, there might be little gain from managing behavioral health medications -- most health plans cover them in the belief that they are less expensive than counseling.

  • Company E is not involved with prescription management in any way.

  • Company F does not typically manage Rx. The responsibility to manage Rx usually remains with the manager for the plan. In the case where Company F is an internal client to a health plan, it has been able to talk with the manager and ensure that the formulary and tiers do not discriminate or are not more restrictive for psychiatric drugs. As a carve-out vendor, Company F provides information to their customers regarding not discriminating in formularies; however, they cannot do more than this.

    Before parity, there was a movement to try to limit psychiatric drugs prescribed by primary care providers. With the advent of parity, there is no way to legally enforce these limitations; thus, the movement has ended.

  • Company G was not asked about managing prescriptions.

Additional Comments About Parity

  • The overall utilization of services has not increased as significantly as Company A was expecting with the implementation of the parity law.

  • States dictate the benefit package and limitations of services for public insurance plans. Company B has no say in establishing or changing the benefits it is responsible to cover under public programs.

    Company B has noticed that states have been so preoccupied with health reform that parity has not been as emphasized. If the parity law had been established a few years earlier, the results and speed of change would have likely been very different.

    With one exception, states are not asking Company B if they meet parity requirements. States appear to be preoccupied with lowering the cost of their share of Medicaid programs and addressing health reform. Rather than ask about parity, states are interested in innovative and more effective ways to manage care and reduce costs.

    In one state, Company B is working to improve the managed care system by providing behavioral health homes to those with serious mental illness (SMI). This is different than the normal health homes in that the primary line of service is related to behavioral health and the secondary line of service is related to physical health.

  • Company C has seen an increase in cost of care for behavioral health services. It is unclear if this increase in cost has come from the changes in benefit design (e.g., cost-sharing and copayments), or the limitations on what utilization management techniques can be used.

    As a result of the parity law, psychiatrists can be reimbursed at the same rate as an obstetrics and gynecology physician for using an E&M code. Company C has seen an increase in the use of E&M codes for psychiatric services, possibly because psychiatrists can be reimbursed at a slightly higher rate by using these codes. This has caused some complaints by health plan providers.

  • A challenge working with health plans, especially the smaller commercial plans, is in keeping up to date on the shared accumulators, members' deductibles and lifetime maximums. Prior to the parity law, Company D had lifetime maximums that applied solely to behavioral health benefits. Now, Company D must use a unified set of maximums, called shared accumulators, in conjunction with members' medical health plans. This has increased the administrative burden of determining whether a claim should be denied based on exceeding a limit.

    Company D works with McKesson continually to improve the InterQual criteria. Clinical areas on which they have collaborated include residential services, psychological testing, and ABA for people with autism, among others.

    Company D conducts internal reviews to ensure compliance with parity regulations. They are evaluated externally by state agencies such as a state's Department of Managed Care.

  • Company E has seen an increase in the length of stay and in the number of admissions. There has also been an increasing number of outpatient visits. Most people are receiving fewer than eight sessions of outpatient therapy, and the distribution of the length of treatment is getting wider. In general, Company E noticed that it takes longer for the outpatient community to make benefit changes than the inpatient community.

    It is a challenge to figure out what the regulations mean. Many providers disagree on the various interpretations of the law.

    Parity still does not cover everyone. It does not apply to small groups and individual policies. Some providers have misunderstood parity, thinking that it gives everyone unlimited behavioral health services. This is not the case.

    There are a small number of plans that decided to drop all behavioral health services because of the parity regulations. Other plans have experimented with excluding certain diagnoses from the diseases they cover.

    Company E has had ample discussion on NQTLs, yet some questions still remain. It is unclear whether it is necessary to totally harmonize MBHO and medical contracts with facilities and providers. Some advocates have also suggested that parity has not yet been established between the level of network access within the field of behavioral health and the level of network access within the rest of the medical field. Company E uses the exact same standards for access to facilities, professionals, and other programs that the medical part of the health plan uses. This strategy should insure similar access to behavioral health and medical professionals. It is also unclear how to reconcile different payment strategies for inpatient services, where payment is based on DRGs for medical services and per-diem rates for behavioral health services. Even though the parity law was designed to establish parity across behavioral health and medical insurance benefits, providers have also tried to use the law to establish parity in how much they are reimbursed, which did not appear to be the original intent of the law.

  • Company F has seen an overall increase in the utilization of behavioral health services in the last few years, although the level has begun to plateau. In addition to changes in limitations and management of behavioral health services, more plans in Company F's state where Company F works started to cover substance abuse services because of the parity law.

    The PPACA has also caused increases in the utilization of behavioral health care. By eliminating preexisting condition clauses and extending coverage to more adolescents and young adults, it has increased demand for all services. Use of certain services has risen dramatically, such as treatment for chemical dependence among adolescents and young adults.

    Company F has not received any complaints that the behavioral health services it offers are not comparable to the physical health benefits of its members. They do receive requests from members regarding the behavioral health medical necessity criteria.

    There appears to be more advocacy regarding parity within the last 6 months than during the whole year after the parity law was passed. A small minority of providers has begun to see members multiple times per week with no clear treatment plan or goals. This pattern of practice was more frequent prior to care management. Company F advises providers that open-access to care does not eliminate the need to monitor its quality. Treatment goals and progress are still required for continued payment.

  • Self-funded employer plans have multiple medical vendors, some of which are not forthcoming with information to allow parity analysis. Some of those vendors also have their own behavioral health business line and may be attempting to steer the customer to their own services. In cases where information has not been shared, Company G assumes a typical benefit package when helping the self-funded plan to ensure that the parity regulations are met.

    "Apples-to-apples" comparisons between behavioral health and medical services are sometimes difficult. For example, there is no medical/surgical equivalent to intensive outpatient services or partial hospitalization.

    Autism presents special difficulties for several reasons. There is no agreement on whether to treat it as a behavioral health condition, a birth defect, or a typical medical condition. It has no analogs in medical care, making parity comparisons difficult.

    States have been active in regulating insurance coverage for autism. Most states with mandates have annual dollar limits. In order to avoid contravening MHPAEA, some of the states designate autism as a medical condition or a birth defect. Others seem to have paid no attention to MHPHEA at all, and it is unclear if MHPAEA was contemplated. Most of the states have the autism applied behavior analysis mandates as standalone mandates. Notably, these rules do assign autism to the same category as SMI or biologically based mental illness; instead, they issue a standalone mandate. Dollar caps, when they exist, are relatively high (e.g., $36,000, $50,000, $70,000). The laws passed are usually based on the Autism Speaks model. New Jersey is the only state that precludes a dollar limit for any plan that covers autism treatment if the plan is subject to federal parity; for plans not subject to federal parity, the plans may enforce the dollar cap.

    Soon after the regulations implementing MHPAEA were released, Company G worked with customer plans to check their compliance with the law. This process took many hours of work for each customer. Now, a few years later, the issue of parity rarely surfaces except with respect to autism.

    The parity analyses were not conducted for each plan that Company G works with. A single large customer can have more than 300 separate plans (certificates). Analyzing parity for each one was not possible. The typical approach was to use the customer's largest or most typical plan. The result would apply broadly, because most plans from a particular customer had similar characteristics.

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