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Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster

Representing the 2nd District of New Hampshire

Bipartisan Opioid Task Force Discusses Importance of Robust Access to Mental Health and Substance Misuse Treatment

Feb 12, 2020
Press Release

The roundtable can be viewed here.

Photos from the roundtable can be viewed here.

Washington, DC – Yesterday, the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force, led by Representatives Annie Kuster (D-NH) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), hosted a roundtable discussion on challenges in accessing mental health and substance use treatment under certain insurance plans. Despite federal laws requiring equal treatment and coverage of mental/behavioral health care versus other medical services, inequities remain.

Dr. Neeraj Gandotra, the Chief Medical Officer at The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), discussed the role the Department of Health has in supporting insurance plans that continue to implement the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which requires group health plans and health insurance issuers to reimburse mental health and substance misuse services at the same rates as other medical treatment.  

“If we want to make headway in combating the substance misuse crisis we must ensure people struggling with addiction are able to access quality treatment and mental health services,” said Kuster. “Addiction and substance misuse must be treated like any other chronic disease. That’s why it’s critical that insurance companies do not under value these essential services. I appreciate the opportunity to hear from experts in this field, and I look forward to sharing their insights with my colleagues as we continue working to curb the opioid epidemic.”

“Yesterday, our Bipartisan Addiction Task Force held a roundtable on our Mental Health Parity legislation.  Mental health and opioid addiction are epidemics that require immediate and constant bipartisan focus, for the health and well-being of all our communities, and it requires a multi-faceted response. Our communities need our help before it is too late,” said Fitzpatrick. “We must continue to support law enforcement efforts, while also focusing on the underlying issues driving people to seek opioids, and working to increasing the accessibility and affordability for prevention, education, treatment, and recovery of addiction and mental health challenges.”

The Task Force was joined by:

  • Dr. Neeraj Gandotra, Chief Medical Officer at SAMHSA
  • Preston Rutledge, Assistant Secretary of Labor at the Employee Benefits Security Administration
  • Dr. Carole Pratt, Senior Policy Advisor at the Virginia Department of Health
  • Mira Signer, Chief Deputy Commissioner for Community Behavioral Health at the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services

Congresswoman Kuster has been outspoken about the need for mental health and addiction parity in health insurance plans. In May, she introduced H.R. 2848, the Parity Enforcement Act, which expands the U.S. Department of Labor’s authority to hold health insurers and plan sponsors accountable for offering health plans that violate the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act of 2008.

The Bipartisan Opioid Task Force has been a driver of Congressional action to take on the opioid crisis, and regularly holds roundtable discussions. In November, the Task Force co-chairs held a roundtable on the intersection of the opioid crisis and the criminal justice system. In addition to the policies included in the comprehensive opioid package, the Task Force successfully passed the VA Prescription Data Accountability Act, the INTERDICT Act and the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act. The Task Force also successfully pushed for the inclusion of $1 billion in funding as part of the 21st Century Cures Act to address the opioid epidemic and helped advance $6 billion in new opioid funding as part of the FY 2018 government funding bill.

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