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Federal Updates

DOL Issues FAQs Regarding Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity CAA Implementation

On April 2, 2021, the DOL, HHS and the Treasury (collectively, “the Departments”) jointly released FAQs regarding recent amendments to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). The guidance is intended to assist group health plan sponsors in understanding the new MHPAEA obligations imposed by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA).

As background, the MHPAEA generally provides that financial requirements and treatment limitations imposed on a plan’s mental health or substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits cannot be more restrictive than those applicable to medical/surgical benefits in a classification. Furthermore, separate treatment limitations cannot be imposed only on MH/SUD benefits. These MHPAEA provisions apply to both quantitative treatment limitations, such as the number of doctor visits, and non-quantitative treatment limitations (NQTLs), such as preauthorization requirements, step protocols or experimental treatment limitations.

The CAA, which was enacted on December 27, 2020, requires group health plans and issuers to perform and document their comparative analyses of the design and application of any NQTLs imposed upon MH/SUD benefits. Effective February 10, 2021, plans must be prepared to provide the analyses to the Departments (or applicable state authorities or participants) upon request.

Accordingly, the FAQs explain that for an analysis to be treated as sufficient under the CAA, it must contain a detailed, written, and reasoned explanation regarding the bases for the plan’s conclusion that the NQTLs comply with the MHPAEA. FAQ #3 specifies that such analyses should include, but not necessarily be limited to:

  1. A clear description of the specific NQTLs, plan terms and policies at issue
  2. Identification of the specific MH/SUD and medical/surgical benefits to which the NQTLs apply within each benefit classification
  3. Identification of any factors, evidentiary standards or sources, or strategies or processes considered in the design or application of the NQTLs
  4. Precise definitions and supporting sources for any factors, standards, strategies or processes defined in a quantitative manner
  5. An explanation as to whether any factors were given more weight than others and the reason(s) for doing so, or whether there was any variation in the application of a guideline or standard used by the plan between MH/SUD and medical/surgical benefits
  6. If the application of the NQTL turns on specific benefit administration decisions, an identification of the nature of the decisions, the decision maker(s), the timing of the decisions and the qualifications of the decision maker(s)
  7. If the plan’s analyses relied upon any experts, an assessment of each expert’s qualifications and the extent to which the plan relied upon each expert’s evaluations in setting recommendations regarding both MH/SUD and medical/surgical benefits
  8. A reasoned discussion of the plan’s findings and conclusions as to the comparability of the processes, strategies, evidentiary standards, factors and sources within each affected classification, and their relative stringency, both as applied and as written
  9. The date of the analyses and the name, title and position of the person(s) who performed or participated in the comparative analyses

Employers are encouraged to refer to the MHPAEA Self-Compliance Tool, which is accessible on the DOL website, for guidance related to these NQTL requirements and the necessary analyses process. In particular, the Self-Compliance Tool outlines four steps that plans should take to assess their compliance with MHPAEA for NQTLs. The FAQs indicate that plans that have followed the guidance in the Self-Compliance Tool should be well prepared to satisfy a comparative analyses request.

Plans should also be prepared to provide applicable supporting documentation, such as claims processing policies and procedures, referenced studies or internal testing results.

In the near term, the DOL expects to focus on the following NQTLs in its enforcement efforts:

  1. Prior authorization requirements for in-network and out-of-network inpatient services
  2. Concurrent review for in-network and out-of-network inpatient and outpatient services
  3. Standards for provider admission to participate in a network, including reimbursement rates
  4. Out-of-network reimbursement rates (plan methods for determining usual, customary and reasonable charges)

However, the guidance makes clear that a review, once initiated, may not necessarily be limited to these particular NQTLs. Additionally, a comparative analysis may be requested if the Departments become aware of potential MHPAEA NQTL violations or complaints.

If a plan’s submission of a comparative analysis results in a determination that the plan is not in compliance with the MHPAEA, the plan would be required to submit additional comparative analyses that demonstrate compliance within 45 days. If the Departments make a final determination that the plan is still not in compliance following the 45-day corrective action period, all enrollees would need to be notified within seven days. In addition, the compliance findings would be shared with the state where the group health plan is located.

The FAQs also confirm that the comparative analyses and other applicable information should be made available to ERISA plan participants, beneficiaries and enrollees upon request. Additionally, in the event of a claim appeal, a participant’s right to documents and information would include the MHPAEA analyses and related materials, if relevant to the adverse benefit determination.

Employers that sponsor plans offering MH/SUD benefits should be aware of the enhanced MHPAEA compliance obligations imposed by the CAA and this related guidance. These employers should ensure that NQTL comparative analysis is performed and documented for each NQTL under their plans and be prepared to provide the required comparative analyses upon request. Consultation with carriers and/or TPAs will likely be necessary to verify and coordinate the necessary data to complete the analyses. Employers should refer to the DOL MHPAEA Self-Compliance Tool and consult with counsel for further guidance.

FAQS About Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Implementation and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 Part 45 »

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