MHARI announces mental health parity awareness initiative

PROVIDENCE – The Mental Health Association of Rhode Island recently announced the coming launch of the RI Parity Initiative to raise public awareness and educate people with mental health and substance use disorders about their right to treatment.

The announcement marked the 10th anniversary of the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. The initiative, still in the planning stages, is scheduled to launch during the fall, according to Ruth Feder, executive director of MHARI.

Despite the years the act has been in effect, many Americans, including Rhode Islanders, are denied care when they need it the most, she said.

Feder pointed to results of a recent, in-depth market conduct exam of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island by the R.I. Office of Health Insurance Commissioner, which found the plan to be “noncompliant” in certain respects with both federal and state parity requirements. According to the report, OHIC’s examiners found evidence that BCBSRI and its utilization review agent applied criteria in a “clinically inappropriate” manner.

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The report also stated that in many cases utilization review procedures were “unreasonable and inequitable” and “did not properly consider patients’ welfare and safety.”

“Parity is a civil rights issue. For too long, people seeking mental health and addiction treatment have experienced discrimination,” said Feder. “An estimated 1 in 4 Rhode Islanders experience a significant mental health crisis every year, and yet patients continue to be shamed and embarrassed and forced to beg for coverage of services that their mental health professionals identify as necessary. The fact is that a lack of parity is still the greatest barrier to care and it’s time, 10 years along, that this discrimination ends.”

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.