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The ‘Data Evaluation Requirement’ for NQTLs Under the Newly Proposed MHPAEA Regulations

Last week’s post examined the “no more restrictive” requirement that would apply to non-quantitative treatment limitations (NQTLs) set out in recently proposed regulations under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). (Our description of the proposed regulations is available here.) The proposed regulations deal principally with NQTLs, which are non-numeric benefit coverage limits that must be no more restrictive for mental health and substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits than for medical surgical (M/S) benefits. We previously claimed that “if adopted in final form [the proposed regulations] would vastly complicate compliance by group health plans and health insurance issuers with an already challenging set of mental health parity rules.” Our views have not changed.

The proposed regulations would, if adopted, impose a series of new requirements on NQTLs that include a “data evaluation requirement.” This new requirement would provide that the plan or issuer designing and applying an NQTL collect and evaluate relevant data to assess the impact of the NQTL on access to MH/SUD and M/S benefits. The plan or issuer would also consider whether the NQTL, in operation, complies with the mental health parity rules. The specific type, form, and manner of data collection and evaluation will be the subject of future guidance. (A technical release accompanied the proposed regulations, described here, which invites comment and suggests a possible, narrow safe harbor.)

The proposed regulations establish two new network-related rules governing NQTLs:

  • For NQTLs not involving network composition, a material difference in the metrics/data gathering for the NQTL as applied to MH/SUD and M/S benefits would be considered a strong indicator of a violation.
  • For NQTLs involving network composition, a violation is deemed to occur if the relevant data shows material differences in access to in-network MH/SUD benefits as compared to in-network M/S benefits.

The proposed regulations would make compliance depend on outcomes. This position represents a significant shift in, if not an outright reversal of, existing law. Under the 2013 final MHPAEA regulations, outcomes are not determinative of compliance. Rather, comparability turns on the application of processes, strategies, evidentiary standards and other design-based factors. Compliance under current law thus turns on an examination of inputs, not outcomes. While the proposed regulations include exceptions for professional medical/clinical standards and for standards to detect fraud, waste and abuse, the preamble to the proposed regulations advises that “these exceptions should be narrowly tailored.”




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The ‘No More Restrictive’ Requirement for NQTLs Under the Proposed MHPAEA Regulations

We previously reported on proposed regulations under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). If adopted in final form, these regulations would vastly complicate compliance by group health plans and health insurance issuers with an already challenging set of mental health parity rules.

The proposed regulations deal principally with non-quantitative treatment limitations (NQTLs), i.e., non-numeric benefit coverage limits that must be no more restrictive for mental health and substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits than for medical surgical (M/S) benefits. Examples of NQTLs include prior authorization requirements, concurrent review, standards for provider admission, Rx formulary design, and fail-first policies or step therapy protocols.

The proposed regulations set out new requirements on NQTLs that include a three-part test consisting of a “no more restrictive” requirement, a “design and application” requirement and a “data evaluation requirement.” There is also a new meaningful benefit requirement, under which plans and issuers must provide meaningful benefits for MH/SUD treatment where the plan also provides a corresponding M/S benefit. With perhaps the exception of the “design and application” requirement, each of these requirements represents a major new compliance obligation on the part of plans and issuers.

This blog post focuses on the “no more restrictive” requirement. Future posts will examine the other requirements.

MHPAEA regulates aggregate lifetime and annual dollar limits, financial requirements, and treatment limitations. (The Affordable Care Act bars lifetime and annual dollar limits on essential health benefits (EHBs). Under MHPAEA, plans and issuers may not be able to impose lifetime and annual dollar limits on MH/SUD benefits that are not EHBs.) Treatment limitations are subdivided into quantitative treatment limitations (QTLs) (e.g., number of days or visits covered) and NQTLs.

The 2013 final MHPAEA regulations apply numerical standards testing to financial requirements and QTLs. These final regulations also adopted six classifications of benefits for this purpose: inpatient, in-network; inpatient, out-of-network; outpatient, in-network; outpatient, out-of-network; emergency care; and prescription drugs. To comply, a financial requirement or QTL imposed on an MH/SUD benefit must be no more restrictive than the predominant financial requirement or QTL that applies to substantially all M/S benefits in a classification. For this purpose:

  • Substantially all” means that the financial limitation or QTL applies to at least two-thirds of all M/S benefits in the classification; and
  • “Predominant” means the level of financial requirement or QTL that applies to more than one-half of the M/S benefits in the relevant classification.

The 2013 final regulations largely rely on a subjective analysis of the processes, strategies, evidentiary standards, and other factors used in the application of NQTLs. The proposed regulations retain this subjective standard and layer on a quantitative “no more restrictive” requirement. As proposed, NQTLs would be subject to numerical standards testing similar to the current law testing that applies to financial requirements and NQTLs. While the “substantially all” prong would not change, some minor modifications would be made to the “predominant” prong. Under the proposed regulations, when testing NQTLs, the term “predominant” [...]

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