On Thursday, New Jersey took big steps forward in providing mental health services to its residents. Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation to enhance the enforcement of mental health parity laws through increased transparency and accountability of insurers. The law requires health insurers to provide coverage for mental health conditions and substance use disorders under the same conditions as it provides coverage for any physical health condition and to meet the requirements of the federal mental health parity law enacted in 2008.
Despite the federal mental health parity law passing over 10 years ago and additional parity protections under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, enforcement was left to the states – most of which have failed to enforce these standards.New Jersey was among the 32 states to receive a failing grade in supporting mental health parity laws in a 2018 Kennedy Forum report. This was largely the result of capacity or will to enforce these standards on a powerful industry.
Mental health care is health care. Substance use disorder treatment is health care. Our laws should be clear that these conditions must be covered on par with the way we cover other health care services – Carole Johnson, NJ Department of Human Services Commissioner
Insurance coverage for behavioral health services has become especially important in the context of the opioid epidemic. Over 3,100 New Jerseyans died of drug overdose in 2018 alone. The New Jersey legislation also expands on federal law, which does not apply to health plans sold on state markets to individuals and small businesses. This adds protections to nearly 300,000 residents. Under the law, insurance companies are required to submit an annual report to the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance (NJDOBI) demonstrating mental health parity compliance. There are also transparency provisions, including an annual report released by the NJDOBI to the legislature and made publicly available regarding the oversight of the law’s provisions each May.
In addition to mental health parity laws, the state added CPT code 99484 to their Medicaid fee schedule in March. This service promotes the integration of behavioral health services into primary care and physical health settings – further highlighting the state’s dedication to increase mental health services.