Previously, Wakely Consulting Group, an HMA company, reviewed aspects of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) requirements proposed rule published by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on August 3, 2023. The agencies accepted comments on the proposed rule through October 17, 2023. Because the proposed rule, if finalized as put forward, will have a significant impact on the compliance obligations of managed care organizations (MCOs) related to mental health parity requirements for the 2025 plan year in the group market and 2026 plan year in the individual market, MCOs will need to ensure, as they enter 2024, that they are in a position undertake any necessary steps to meet such obligations. This blog post outlines three specific requirements in the proposed the rule related to non-quantitative treatment limitations (NQTL) and their implications for a subset of MCOs: regional and local MCOs.
No More Restrictive Requirement
In the proposed rule, the IRS, EBSA, and CMS restate that MCOs may not apply any NQTL to mental health/substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits in any classification that is more restrictive, in policy or practice, than the predominant NQTL that applies to substantially all medical/surgical benefits in the same classification. To ensure compliance with this requirement, the proposed rule specifies exactly how an MCO must determine if the requirement is met.
First, the proposed rule outlines in detail how an MCO must complete a quantitative calculation to determine whether an NQTL applies to substantially all medical/surgical benefits in the classification at issue. If the NQTL does apply to substantially all medical/surgical benefits in the classification, the proposed rule then outlines exactly how the MCO must determine what version of the NQTL counts as the predominant one within the classification as well. Finally, once the predominant variation of the NQTL is established for an NQTL that applies to substantially all medical/surgical benefits in the classification, an MCO would have to use the proposed rule’s definition of “restrictive” (i.e., “imposes conditions, terms, or requirements that limit access to benefits under the terms of the plan,”) to determine if the NQTL applied to the relevant MH/SUD benefit is no more restrictive than the applicable medical/surgical benefit NQTL.
For local and regional MCOs, while the no more restrictive standard is not new, the steps required to ensure compliance likely represent—at the very least—an area where materially more intensive and sophisticated capabilities will need to be brought to bear. Completing the steps outlined above will require a cross-functional approach that leverages such areas as actuarial, behavioral health, clinical, compliance, financial analytics, and legal. The necessary people and processes will need to be deployed not only to accomplish the work effort but to do so in a way that is intelligible to federal and state regulators.
In the proposed rule, the IRS, EBSA, and CMS seek to make explicit a requirement which mandates that MCOs cannot impose an NQTL on MH/SUD benefits in any classification unless the factors used in designing and applying the NQTL to MH/SUD benefits in the classification are comparable to, and are applied no more stringently than, the factors used in designing and applying the NQTL to medical/surgical benefits in the classification. The agencies note that the regulatory revisions offered only seek to codify what has been a longstanding position of the agencies on this issue.
The most notable and innovative provision put forward by the agencies for purposes of determining comparability is one that would prohibit MCOs from relying on any factor in the design or application of an NQTL if the information on which the factor is based discriminates against MH/SUD benefits when compared to medical/surgical benefits. In this context, the proposed rule makes clear that discriminating against MH/SUD benefits means being biased or not objective, in a manner that results in less favorable treatment of MH/SUD benefits, based on all the relevant facts and circumstances.
For local and regional MCOs, it is advisable, given both the prudence of mitigating forthcoming potential compliance risks and likely limitations on the resources that can be devoted to compliance efforts in a discrete time period, to begin to evaluate upon entering 2024, whether NQTLs imposed on MH/SUD benefits have been designed and applied in a way that comports with this proposal by the agencies. For example, an MCO should evaluate whether factors currently employed rely on historical data or other historical information from a time when coverage was not subject to MHPAEA or was in violation of MHPAEA’s requirements where the use of such data results in less favorable treatment of MH/SUD benefits, as this would be prohibited. To this point, the agencies specifically note that MCOs would not be permitted to calculate reimbursement rates based on historical data on total spending for each specialty that is divided between MH/SUD providers and medical/surgical providers, when the total spending was based on a time period when coverage was not subject to MHPAEA or was in violation of MHPAEA, if the data results in less favorable treatment of MH/SUD benefits.
Outcomes Data Use Requirement
In the proposed rule, the IRS, EBSA, and CMS note that substantially disparate results are often a red flag that an MCO may be imposing an NQTL in a manner that does not comply with MHPAEA and so the agencies have included a proposal to add a requirement that, when designing and applying an NQTL, an MCO must collect and evaluate relevant outcome data in a manner reasonably designed to assess the impact of the NQTL on access to MH/SUD benefits and medical/surgical benefits as well as consider the impact as part of the MCO’s analysis of whether such NQTL complies with MHPAEA.
At minimum, MCOs would have to collect and evaluate data for all NQTLs that includes, but is not limited to, the number and percentage of relevant claims denials, as well as any other data relevant to the NQTLs as required by state law or private accreditation standards. Furthermore, due a specific concern of the agencies about network composition, the proposed rule would mandate that MCOs also collect additional applicable data for NQTLs that relate to network composition such as in-network and out-of-network utilization rates, network adequacy metrics (i.e., time and distance data and data on providers accepting new patients), and provider reimbursement rates. To the extent that data collected and analyzed demonstrates significant differences in access to MH/SUD benefits when compared to medical/surgical benefits, the MCO would be required to take reasonable action to address these differences in access as necessary to ensure compliance with MHPAEA.
For local and regional MCOs, beginning in 2024 to inventory readily available data sources that would be able to be leveraged to comply with this proposal is an important step in order to be prepared to comply during the 2025 plan year in the group market and 2026 plan year in the individual market. Additionally, assessing analytic capabilities to determine the level of readiness to be able to complete the evaluation based on the data collected is also an important component of preparing for this proposed new compliance obligation.
For More Information
If you have questions about how HMA can support your efforts related to the proposed rule’s implications for local and regional MCOs, please contact Michael Engelhard, Managing Director or Patrick Tigue, Managing Director.