Porter, Dingell Introduce Legislation to Improve Mental Health Coverage for Public Servants
Bicameral bill would close loophole used by insurers to get out of covering mental health care
WASHINGTON—Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-CA), along with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), today introduced legislation that would improve insurance coverage for mental health and substance use disorders treatment for frontline workers. The Closing Health Coverage Gaps for Public Servants Act would require that certain care plans covering firefighters, police, public school teachers, and city and state workers provide benefits that other plans must provide, including abiding by mental health parity laws that prohibit mental health coverage from being more restrictive than coverage for other types of medical care.
“Mental health care is health care, and it’s unacceptable that some health plans don’t treat it that way,” said Porter. “We owe it to teachers, firefighters, and other public servants, who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, to remove the unfair barriers they face getting the care they need. I’m proud to join Congresswoman Dingell and Senators Murphy and Stabenow in introducing this legislation to make it easier for public service workers to get necessary mental health treatment.”
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act became law in 2008, but more than a decade later, health plans and insurers continue to violate the law or exploit loopholes to avoid providing equal coverage for mental and physical care. Porter’s legislation to strengthen enforcement of federal parity laws, the Mental Health Parity Compliance Act, was signed into law in December 2020. Despite these requirements, 181 self-funded, non-federal government health care plans have opted-out of benefits that other plans are required to provide. Of these 181 plans, all but one have chosen not to provide mental health and substance use disorder parity protections.
The Closing Health Coverage Gaps for Public Servants Act also prevents self-funded, non-federal government health care plans from opting out of other important health protections. Porter’s bill expands coverage for post-mastectomy reconstructive breast surgery, hospital stays following the birth of a child, and dependent students on medically necessary leaves of absence.
“Our nation is in the midst of a significant mental health and substance use disorder crisis that has disproportionately impacted frontline workers and been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dingell. “Yet, for too long, these workers have lacked adequate health care coverage to obtain the treatment they need for mental health services due to loopholes in current laws. With the Closing Health Coverage Gaps for Public Servants Act, we will finally right this wrong and ensure our nation’s police, firefighters, public school teachers, and city and state workers have comprehensive healthcare coverage so they can get the care they deserve.”
“Everyone deserves access to mental health care—especially our teachers, firefighters, police, and public servants who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic,” said Murphy. “This legislation brings more health care plans into compliance with federal protections like mental health and substance use disorder parity laws and closes a loophole that has allowed government-run plans to deny coverage for critical health care services. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and this is a simple step to make sure more people get the care they need.”
“No person struggling with mental health issues or addiction should go without the treatment they need because an insurance company won’t cover it,” said Stabenow. “Health care is health care—whether it is above the neck or below the neck. Our bill would make sure that workers get comprehensive coverage of mental health and addiction treatment and other critical services.”
The Closing Health Coverage Gaps for Public Servants Act is endorsed by AFSCME, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, American Society of Addiction Medicine, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, The Kennedy Forum, March of Dimes, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, National Association of School Nurses, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), National Council for Mental Wellbeing, National Education Association (NEA), National Health Law Program, Mental Health America (MHA), Parity Enforcement Coalition, Partnership to End Addiction, School Social Work Association of America, and Susan G. Komen.
“For two years, public service workers have fought tirelessly on the frontlines of the COVID crisis, putting themselves in harm’s way to ensure Orange County residents have access to health care and can get access to benefits that help pay the bills and put food on the table,” said AFSCME Local 2076 President Diana Corral. “This pandemic has exacted a brutal toll, including on the mental health of the frontline public service workers who have stepped up for our communities. Unfortunately, some health plans have denied these everyday heroes access to the affordable mental health care they deserve. We thank Rep. Porter for introducing the Closing Health Coverage Gaps for Public Servants Act. Rep. Porter is standing up for those who answer the call in their communities by trying to fix the loophole that allows certain health plans to discriminate against working people for seeking to take care of their mental health.”
“The nation’s mental health crisis has gotten even worse during these last two grueling years,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. “And people who work in public service, who have been on the front lines of COVID response every single day, experiencing high stress levels and burnout, need access to mental health services more than ever. Getting rid of this discriminatory loophole and ensuring public service workers have equal access to mental health and substance abuse treatment is long overdue. On behalf of 1.4 million AFSCME members, many of whom also are mental and behavioral health professionals, I’m grateful to Sen. Chris Murphy, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Katie Porter, and Rep. Debbie Dingell for introducing this fix.”
Porter has consistently fought to improve mental health care throughout her time in Congress. Last year, she introduced bipartisan legislation to help meet the skyrocketing demand for mental and behavioral health services during the pandemic. She has also urged her colleagues on both sides of the aisle to better protect young people struggling with mental health issues, and praised Orange County schools for prioritizing the mental health needs of students.
Additional statements of support for the Closing Health Coverage Gaps for Public Servants Act can be found HERE.