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Date: December 12, 2013
GSB Press Release

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) requires many insurance plans to cover mental health or substance use disorders

Seattle, WA December 12, 2013—Historically millions of Americans with disorders related to mental health and alcohol, drug and substance abuse, have not had adequate insurance protection to afford the costs of treatment. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) now makes it easier for those Americans to get the care they need by prohibiting certain discriminatory practices that limit insurance coverage for behavioral health treatment and services. The MHPAEA requires many insurance plans that cover mental health or substance use disorders to offer coverage for those services that is no more restrictive than the coverage for medical/surgical conditions. * MHPAEA information sourced from http://beta.samhsa.gov/health-reform/parity

According to Stephen Rose, attorney with Garvey Schubert Barer, “For mental health professionals and healthcare facilities, increasing the number of clients seeking treatment is a serious matter with far reaching consequences. There are complex issues impacting families, especially parents; governmental agencies and regulatory groups; educational institutions and educators; and medical facilities, mental health professionals and mental illness advocacy organizations. There are also significant legislative ramifications on a state and national level that impact governance of mental health issues.”

Roger Hillman, attorney with Garvey Schubert Barer, said, “There are concerns as to whether the present mental health care system, both public and private organizations, can handle the anticipated increase of patients who can now receive treatment. This could have an adverse impact on the frequency and length of treatment, which may be perceived as impacting its effectiveness.”

There is no assurance that the treatment of individuals for mental health issues will eliminate the possibility of violent crime. Both public and private organizations have been exposed to liability when a mentally ill person—connected to the organization as a patient—committed a violent crime that resulted in a lawsuit.

Most notably in Washington state, there was recent litigation involving a school district and a number of mental health providers, who were named as parties to a lawsuit after a violent stabbing was committed by a mentally ill high school student who was actually undergoing treatment around the time she committed the crime. Plaintiffs’ counsel attempted, unsuccessfully, to point to the frequency of treatment and duration of each session, as establishing liability on the part of the mental health providers.

Predicting future violence among criminal offenders is difficult, but predicting violence among the general population, who are not criminals and who are simply receiving treatment for a wide range of mental health issues, is nearly impossible.

According to Richard L. Packard, Ph.D., Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, who has extensive expertise doing psychological and forensic evaluations/consulting and many years of experience working with various legal issues and rendering expert opinions in both criminal and civil contexts, “The prediction of violent behavior is not consistent; there is often an inability to predict violence, especially among clients who have no previous history of it. We have no well-established, scientific methods to understand whether a mental health client coming in off the street would be violent. There is a huge gray area with people who have never been violent and how to predict whether they will be violent in the future.”

How do public and private institutions protect themselves from liability? More importantly, can caregivers, mental health professionals, healthcare facilities, and many organizations protect themselves from liability and still provide help for those who are in need of mental health treatment?

Richard Packard said, “Among my colleagues, there is awareness of the MHPAEA, but we do not appreciate all of the details of the law yet. There are lawyers around me everyday who specialize in mental health law and we’re having discussions about the MHPAEA. No one really knows what to say yet. It’s important to seek legal counsel and to understand all of the details of the law.”

NOTE to EDITORS and PRODUCERS: Stephen Rose and Roger Hillman of Garvey Schubert Barer (Seattle), and Richard L. Packard, Ph.D., (Seattle) are available for interview.

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