Congressman Donald Norcross

Representing the 1st District of New Jersey
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Norcross Secures Key Provision to Hold Insurers Accountable for Failing to Meet Mental Health Parity Standards

Sep 16, 2021
News Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Last week, U.S. Congressman Donald Norcross (NJ-01), a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, secured a key mental health parity provision in the committee’s markup of the Build Back Better Act. The provision reinforces 2008 legislation authored by then-U.S. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy which mandated that health insurance plans cover mental illnesses like they cover physical illnesses. The mental health parity provision authored by Congressman Norcross expands the U.S. Department of Labor’s authority to hold health insurers and plan sponsors accountable for violating that mandate.

“This bill empowers the Department of Labor to investigate and fine insurers offering federally regulated health plans if they violate the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act,” said Congressman Norcross. “Our nation has seen a surge in mental health crises due to the stress, anxiety, and isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our minds are what make us uniquely human, and it is frankly ridiculous that some insurers refuse to provide the same level of care for mental and behavioral health issues as they would for a broken arm or strained wrist.”

"Enabling the U.S. Department of Labor to assess fines for violations of the Federal Parity Act is critical to ensuring equal insurance coverage of lifesaving mental health and addiction treatment for Americans," said former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, founder of The Kennedy Forum. "I applaud Congressman Norcross and Chairman Scott for including the Parity Enforcement Act in the Committee's Build Back Better Act language."

Norcross added: “I applaud Chairman Scott for his leadership on the Build Back Better Act and my colleagues who voted to include this vital language in the final mark-up. The mental health parity language within the Build Back Better Act will ensure families receive the lifesaving support they are entitled to under the law.”

Health insurers are required by law to provide the same level of coverage for mental health and substance use disorders that they provide for physical health. But the reality is that many insurers skirt this requirement, and the Department of Labor has no front-end enforcement mechanism to hold bad actors accountable.

The provision authored by Congressman Norcross was originally introduced in the House as the Parity Enforcement Act of 2021 (H.R.1364). Including the provision in the base text of the Build Back Better Act will help ensure individuals receive the mental health care they deserve and are entitled to under law.

Background

In 2008, Congress began requiring mental health parity – which means, under law, insurance plans must provide the same level of coverage for mental health and substance use disorders that they provide for physical health conditions. The problem is – the law cannot be adequately enforced for the millions of employees that receive health insurance through their employer.

Currently, the Department of Labor (DOL) is only able to require employers to reimburse their workers after there are parity violations in their self-funded insurance plans. However, DOL cannot act against the insurance company that is offering the insurance plan. That leaves DOL with no front-end enforcement mechanism to ensure there’s compliance with existing mental health and substance-use parity requirements.

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Contact: Britton Burdick, Communications Director
britton.burdick@mail.house.gov