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Mental Health Parity Legislation Would Increase Enforcement Against Employers

The House Education and Labor Committee passed an HR Policy-opposed bill that would double the budget for mental health parity litigation against employer-sponsored plans and deem unenforceable mandatory arbitration clauses for ERISA claims related to mental health benefits. The bill would also create a private right of action for mental health parity claims.

The Mental Health Matters Act (H.R. 7780) would make it more difficult for employers to provide benefits. The letter from the Partnership for Employer-Sponsored Coverage, of which HR Policy is a member, stated that encouraging individual and DOL/EBSA enforcement of parity standards “weaponizes the relationship between employers that sponsor health coverage and their covered employees…Litigation will add to the cost of coverage for employees and employers without meaningfully improving coverage.”

The bill includes The Employee and Retiree Access to Justice Act, which would give plans the remainder of the current plan year, plus one additional year, to update plan documents to:

  • Deem pre-dispute forced arbitration clauses, class action waivers, and representation waivers unenforceable;

  • Deem unenforceable single-employer plans plan provisions that give discretionary authority in benefit determinations or plan interpretation;

  • Deem post-dispute forced arbitration clauses, class action waivers, and representation waivers unenforceable unless certain conditions are met; and

  • Provide that any dispute as to whether an arbitration clause is enforceable must be determined by a court, rather than an arbiter.

The bill also includes the Strengthening Behavioral Health Benefits Act, which provides $275 million in funding over ten years to DOL and authorizes DOL as well as any plan participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary to bring a civil action regarding mental health and substance use disorder benefits against a plan, health insurance issuer, fiduciary, or other third-party administrators.

Outlook: The Mental Health Matters Act passed out of the Education and Labor Committee in a 26-18 vote with no Republicans supporting the bill. HR Policy will continue to work with Congress and DOL on finding solutions to improve behavioral health access that do not improperly penalize employers. This July, DOL is expected to release additional guidance regarding employer mental health parity obligations.

Published on: May 20, 2022

Authors: Margaret Faso

Topics: Employee Wellbeing, Wellness

Margaret Faso

Director of Health Care Research and Policy, American Health Policy Institute and HR Policy Association

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