Tag Archives: Mental Health

Nonquantitative treatment limitations in the spotlight

Nonquantitative treatment limitations (NQTLs) continue to be a source of difficulty for many health plans in attaining compliance with the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). Now that a few years have passed since the implementation of the final rules, we can see examples of MHPAEA enforcement related to NQTLs and the types of NQTLs being investigated and settled. In this paper, Milliman consultants provide perspective.

How the Cures Act affects parity of behavioral health services

perlman_j_danielPresident Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act) into law on December 13. This lengthy bill has gotten attention mostly for its funding of cancer research, reforms to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug approval process, funding for opioid addiction treatment, and policies to address suicide prevention and serious mental illnesses. Additionally, there are important provisions related to enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA).

MHPAEA requires parity of benefits for mental health/substance use (behavioral) conditions and medical/surgical (physical) conditions in health plans that cover both physical and behavioral benefits. It applies to self-funded employer-based plans, and also to insured plans in the large group, small group, and individual markets. MHPAEA applies to quantitative items, such as financial requirements (copays, deductibles, etc.) and some types of treatment limitations (such as annual visit limits). It also applies to nonquantitative items, such as medical management practices and drug formulary design.

The quantitative items have historically received the most attention from health plans and employer plan sponsors, perhaps because there is a clear mathematical test in MHPAEA’s implementing regulations for how to comply. We have seen less attention paid to MHPAEA’s requirements for nonquantitative treatment limitations (NQTLs), where the regulations are less specific. However, NQTLs are just as important in the regulations, and in fact they have been the driving factor behind a number of publicly disclosed enforcement actions under MHPAEA or similar state parity laws.

There are two repeatedly occurring themes throughout the parity-related provisions of the Cures Act. First, the Cures Act seeks to strengthen enforcement of MHPAEA generally. Second, it requires the implementing federal departments (Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Labor) to provide further clarification regarding the NQTL rules under MHPAEA.

Here are key provisions of the Cures Act as related to behavioral health parity:

• The Cures Act requires the departments responsible for enforcement to issue a compliance program guidance document within 12 months. This document should provide concrete examples of what does and does not comply with MHPAEA, including actual examples of findings from investigations. For NQTLs, the examples must provide clear detail to explain the finding of compliance or noncompliance. This document is to be updated every two years with further examples of compliance and noncompliance.

• The law requires the departments to prepare a similar guidance document for health insurers and plan sponsors. This also needs to provide examples of how to comply with the disclosure requirements of MHPAEA. The Cures Act requires the guidance document to provide examples of disclosing information related to what NQTLs there are in a plan, what factors are used to apply an NQTL, and how the plan ensures that they are applied at parity.

• The law enumerates several even more specific types of information for which the departments must provide guidance related to NQTL compliance. For example, the final rules implementing MHPAEA state that in order for an NQTL to be compliant when applied to behavioral services, there must be parity between medical/surgical and behavioral care in the “processes, strategies, evidentiary standards, or other factors used in applying” the NQTL. The Cures Act seeks more clarity and examples regarding the meaning of those terms.

• If a plan issuer or sponsor is found to have violated MHPAEA at least five times, this will trigger an audit by the departments of plan documents in order to help improve compliance. It remains to be seen how “five times” will be defined and interpreted.

• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is required to produce an “action plan” to improve federal and state coordination of enforcement of MHPAEA.

• For each of the next five years, the departments must submit a report to Congress summarizing the results of all closed federal investigations completed in the past year regarding serious violations of MHPAEA. This report must have detail on how many investigations there were, what benefit classes were examined, what the investigations were about, and how the final decisions were reached.

• The Government Accountability Office (GAO) must prepare a report detailing how well insurers and plan sponsors are complying with MHPAEA. The Cures Act specifically lists NQTL compliance as something to be included in this report, along with a discussion of how well MHPAEA is being enforced.

• There is a brief clarification in the Cures Act that benefits for eating disorders (including residential treatment for eating disorders), if provided, must be provided at parity under MHPAEA.

In short, the Cures Act does not introduce new parity requirements per se, but rather seeks greater clarity and enforcement of existing rules (particularly with respect to NQTLs).

The final rules for the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008

The U.S. Departments of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services issued final regulations on November 8, 2013, implementing the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). Although interim final rules (IFR) had been in effect since 2010, the industry has been awaiting these final rules in order to gain clarity on how to comply with certain provisions of MHPAEA.

The new rules clarify or revise some aspects of the IFR that had created unusual consequences for employers and health plans. They also make several important changes to the rules regarding nonquantitative treatment limitations (NQTLs); however, a number of important elements of the IFR, such as the basic framework for testing compliance on financial requirements and quantitative treatment limitations, were left unchanged. This briefing paper authored by Steve Melek presents the key changes to the regulations codified in the final rules and discusses the implications for employers and health plans.

For an overview of the 2010 IFR, see the Milliman healthcare reform briefing paper, “Implementing parity: Investing in behavioral health.”

Can state Medicaid programs experience savings through medical-behavioral integration?

When it comes to Medicaid costs, a single percentage point can have billion-dollar implications. Medicaid managed care premiums increased only 1.0% to 2.0% on average in recent years. This increase in premiums amounts to $36.5 to $41.9 billion over 10 years in total, with the state governments funding $13.0 to $14.9 billion. Reducing costs by even a tenth of a percent has significant implications for Medicaid, which is why increased behavioral health deserves consideration.

Milliman’s Stephen Melek’s new research paper, Bending the Medicaid healthcare cost curve through financially sustainable medical-behavioral integration, recommends providing more behavioral healthcare services to Medicaid beneficiaries, not fewer, through integrated medical-behavioral healthcare programs.

The paper also presents some data to assess the value opportunity for doing this integration, discusses the language of integrated/collaborative care, addresses the challenges in achieving financially sustainable integration models, and looks at recent innovations and pilot programs that are focused on delivering better healthcare, attempting to achieve better clinical and financial outcomes, and providing input for the case that medical-behavioral integration innovations can work well.

The entire research paper can be downloaded and read here.

Also, for more Medicaid insight from our experts, see here.

Measuring the cost of undiagnosed depression

Despite the high cost and prevalence of depression, it is often either undiagnosed or not diagnosed in a timely manner, and diagnosis does not always lead to treatment. While the costs of depression after the diagnosis of the condition have been widely studied, literature on the healthcare costs and absence-from-work costs during the period between initial disease onset and subsequent diagnosis and treatment is not as robust.

The purpose of this research is to estimate the excess healthcare costs and absence-from-work costs during the two-year period prior to the initial diagnosis of depression. We estimate that the total excess healthcare costs and absence-from-work costs for persons with undiagnosed depression over the two-year period leading up to the depression diagnosis/treatment is approximately $3,386 per undiagnosed depressed individual (in 2009 dollars).

To see the full results, including data sources, study methodology, and a discussion of what these findings mean for employers and insurers, click here.

The impact of depression treatment persistence on total healthcare costs

Depression is a prevalent and costly disorder. Existing research has shown that many patients suffering from behavioral health conditions, including depression, receive inadequate or no treatment for these disorders. Inadequate treatment often occurs when patients discontinue their prescribed courses of treatment.

The purpose of this research report is to attempt to quantify the impact of depression treatment persistence on post-treatment healthcare costs. Is persistent treatment associated with future healthcare cost savings? Do patients who receive more depression treatment or continue treatment have lower total healthcare cost growth post-treatment than those who received less treatment or discontinued treatment? We conducted a study from a large national medical claims database and compared the relative change in total healthcare costs from the pre-treatment period to the post-treatment period by cohort.

Our results suggest that there is a relationship between persistent treatment for depression and future healthcare cost trend reductions for certain treatment paths and patient cohorts. We conclude with a discussion of the results and of suggestions for future research on this topic.

Read the full report here.