Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Patrick Kennedy (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Insurance companies are less likely to cover mental health or substance abuse disorders than any other physical condition if you live in Connecticut, but a new law seeks to change that.

Actually, Connecticut has the worst mental health parity compliance in the United States, according to a 2017 study by the actuarial consulting firm Milliman.

Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said the Milliman study found 34% of all mental health claims were deemed to be “out-of-network” compared to 3% for the treatment of physical health problems.

The disparity, according to advocates like former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, is proof of discrimination against individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders.

“Connecticut is a leader because we are the insurance capital of America and let’s lead,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “Mental health is physical health. Let’s take the lead on this.”

Lamont’s remarks were made Monday at a signing of a bill that requires insurers to submit analyses demonstrating how they are in compliance with the 2008 Federal Parity Law.

The bill unanimously passed the House and the Senate.

The end product was the result of negotiations with the insurance industry.

The bill requires insurance companies to show the Connecticut Insurance Department how they are complying with the law, but it doesn’t include any penalties for non-compliance.

“You would think the shame factor would count for something,” Kennedy said.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Gov. Ned Lamont (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

He said the largest insurance companies in the country are here in Connecticut and “you would think they would want to be proactive as the governor challenged them to be on this.”

Kennedy hinted that it would be unusual if an insurance company was violating both federal and state law and were allowed to bid on a state contract. However, he also suggested that’s something for the legislature to take up next year.

“I hope the people of Connecticut keep pressing their lawmakers because that’s the only way this truly gets done,” Kennedy said.

He said there should be sanctions against the companies because what they are doing now is “discriminating against people simply because their illnesses happen to be of the brain as opposed to another organ in their body.”

He said the general public won’t stand for discrimination.

Scanlon said the Insurance Department has to report to the Insurance and Real Estate Committee and tell them which insurance companies did not meet the goals set forth by the parity law.

Scanlon said if the insurance companies have been discriminating against people based on mental health and addiction, then lawmakers might want to have regulators consider that in the rate-setting process. They could also consider other sanctions in the future.

“Connecticut’s health insurers, through the CT Association of Health Plans, were pleased to be engaged in the development of this public act,” Susan Halpin, head of the CT Association of Health Plans, said. “The health plans welcomed the opportunity to work with the Governor’s office and his administration, the legislature, and advocates on the legislation.”

The original bill also would have required insurance coverage of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, but the provision was stripped from the legislation.

Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said there’s always a fight with the insurance industry when the state tries to expand existing coverage requirements.

This year was no different.

Lamont, who walks a fine line between being an advocate for ratepayers and embracing the insurance industry as a business leader, said his administration will continue to try to expand coverage.

“This is just a first step for a state that wants to stay a leader when it comes to mental health parity and when it comes to addiction coverage,” Lamont said.

He said they try and do things with the insurance industry on a collaborative basis.