I have been the director of the Maryland Parity Project since its inception in 2011. I have spent four years educating Maryland behavioral health consumers and providers about the rights provided to them by the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (the Federal Parity Law .) In my current role, I have assisted more than 200 individuals who have called the project because of private insurance barriers that are keeping them from accessing care. I have helped multiple families file appeals and complaints against their insurers- helping them obtain authorization for residential treatment , secure thousands of dollars in reimbursement for previous treatment, and access coverage for expensive medications.

I have learned many things in the 4 years I’ve been assisting people to enforce their rights under the law. The importance of advocates working with their state policy makers and insurance regulators to promote proactive enforcement of the Federal Parity Law cannot be understated. The promise of parity will never be fully realized until states prioritize proper enforcement of the law. The current complaint driven process is woefully inadequate to eradicate the long-standing, insurer discrimination against behavioral health consumers. I believe that insured consumers are not prepared to bear the burden of holding their insurers accountable for parity compliance. Relying on consumers to recognize violations and file complaints is not an appropriate enforcement strategy as they are not provided all the information necessary to determine whether their plans are violating the Federal Parity Law. Often individuals attempting to access behavioral health care are in family crisis and dealing with a burdensome insurance appeal process is the last thing they think about. Insurers should be more transparent, proactively demonstrate that they comply with the law, and allowed to only sell plans that are compliant with the Federal Parity Law, but until that happens, it is critically important that behavioral health consumers have the resources and assistance they need to file appeals and complaints.

Parity advocates who are interested in replicating the Maryland Parity Project in their state are welcome to contact Adrienne at aellis@mhamd.org for more information and lessons learned.