Pennsylvania investigating barriers to mental health and substance use disorder treatment

As part of a larger mental health initiative, Pennsylvania released a survey to state healthcare providers last week to determine the existing barriers to mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

The effort is being run by the Insurance Department, in partnership with other state agencies. It seeks to educate providers and consumers alike about consumer rights granted them by state and federal parity laws — laws which have, to varying degrees, attempted to remove some access limits on health care. Specifically, they require that treatment and services for mental health and substance use disorders face no greater limitations than those applied to physical medical efforts.

“The results from this survey will allow us to better inform and collaborate with providers, advocates, and personnel on the front lines,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “Their experiences will help us enhance resources, develop more tools, and create learning opportunities that will help serve the providers’ needs, which will ultimately help those in need of mental wellness services.”

Pennsylvania insurers, however, have recently indicated that there are noncompliant barriers limiting consumers’ ability to access treatment both for mental health and substance use disorders. The Wolf administration wants to know what patients think such barriers are, and it’s looking for feedback from their providers to get them. The survey looks for specific instances of complaints providers have heard from patients regarding access and also asks providers about any barriers to treatment and reimbursement they may have found.

“While complicated in its wording, both state and federal law are very clear that inequitable barriers to mental health and substance use disorder treatment will not be permitted,” Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said. “Through our market conduct examinations, we have found that many insurers have placed limitations on treatment that are stricter than state and federal parity requirements allow.”

The survey will be sent to providers by email, with responses accepted through March 4, 2020.