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.”