Students participating in the School of Law's Drug Policy Clinic achieved victory in the final days of the 2010 session of the Maryland General Assembly with the enactment of a bill that increases the availability of addiction treatment and mental health services to individuals with commercial insurance plans. Drug Policy Clinic Professor Ellen Weber and third-year law student Delia Stubbs worked closely with the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA) to support SB 57, a bill that would bring existing state law into compliance with the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act ("federal parity law"), as well as the recently enacted health reform legislation.
The federal parity law aims to end health insurance companies' discrimination against individuals with histories of addiction or mental illness by prohibiting group health plans from imposing separate or more restrictive treatment limitations on benefits for substance use disorder and mental health treatments than are imposed for physical illnesses.
Ms. Stubbs testified before the Senate Finance Committee and submitted testimony to the House Government Operations Committee that supported the proposed bill. Virtually all of the Clinic's proposed amendments to the bill were included in the final law recently signed by the Governor.
Maryland's original parity law prohibited health insurance companies from discriminating against individuals with mental illness or addiction by setting standards that would be deemed non-discriminatory for outpatient, inpatient and partial hospitalization services. SB 57 ensures better availability of treatment under certain health plans by eliminating tiered cost sharing requirements for outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment, and preserving a floor for partial hospitalization services.
Under SB 57, Maryland will now prohibit certain health insurance plans from limiting behavioral health care services by using more restrictive standards to manage the behavioral health benefit than are used to manage other medical benefits. Such limitations—often couched in medical necessity criteria—often prevented individuals from accessing the treatment that they needed. The new limitations on managed care standards in SB 57 are a significant addition to state law.
"I appreciated having the opportunity to work with the MIA and see how advocates, legislators, and state agencies can collaborate to promote the public's health," Ms. Stubbs commented, at the conclusion of the process. "I am grateful to have learned the value of public service so early in my career."