University of Maryland Carey School of Law Professor Ellen Weber has been working for Marylanders with substance use and mental health disorders for almost 15 years. A prestigious new opportunity is bringing her talents to the national stage. Weber, who founded the school’s Drug Policy Clinic in 2002, is taking on a new role as Vice President for Health Initiatives at the Legal Action Center in Washington, DC.
Weber will continue her work in Maryland as a part-time faculty member at Carey Law. She is in the last year of a two-year grant from the Open Society Institute-Baltimore (OSI). The grant is one of three rounds of OSI funding – a total of more than $900,000. At the clinic, Weber and her students have focused most recently on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2009. The Parity Act is a federal law that requires insurers to provide coverage to those with mental health or substance use problems that is comparable to the coverage provided to those with other medical problems.
“At the clinic, we have used the Parity Act to try to get the most expansive, nondiscriminatory health benefit for patients with mental health and substance use disorders,” Weber said. “We feel we’ve accomplished a lot by advocating for strict enforcement of that law in our state.”
Weber’s new Legal Action Center position will allow her to focus on the same range of health issues at a national level. It also will provide Carey Law students with the opportunity for externships under her supervision. The change comes at an ideal time, since the presidential election in November presents an opportunity for a renewed approach to substance use and mental health issues on the national stage, Weber said. “I’ll be working to help frame up these issues for a new administration and a new Congress,” she explained.
Her new role at the Legal Action Center also will examine “how the parity law is being implemented both on the national level and in states,” Weber added. “We also will be developing litigation to enforce the parity act where we think litigation is necessary. I’ll be working to adapt and transfer to other states some of the enforcement strategies we’ve used through our work in Maryland.”
That work has included new legislation passed in this year’s Maryland General Assembly that requires the state’s Medicaid program to comply with the Parity Act by July 2017. Weber and her clinic team worked with partners to write and advocate for that new law. In her continuing role at Carey Law, Weber hopes to work with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to help it achieve compliance by the deadline.
The drug policy clinic also has “been doing the same type of enforcement work in the private insurance context,” Weber said. “We’ve been working with the Maryland Insurance Administration to make sure that private insurers comply with this law, and representing a number of individual clients whose private insurance has not covered or is imposing restrictive standards with regard to methadone treatment.”
Weber’s new opportunity is a new part of her always-diverse approach to this dynamic issue.
“We’ve used the Parity Act and other Affordable Care Act protections in every way that we can to try to identify insurance coverage problems and fix those problems, from legislative activities to regulation development with agencies to individual client representation,” Weber said. “We use a variety of different strategies to take on these barriers that limit access to health care.”