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Mass. Insurers Ramp Up Scrutiny of Mental Health Treatment

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Addiction and mental-health parity may be the law of the land, but it doesn’t seem to be preventing insurers from limiting access to such services in states like Massachusetts.

The Boston Globe reported May 17 that insurers in Massachusetts are requiring mental-health therapists to go through long and repeated phone interviews regarding patient progress before authorizing continued care. Patients and therapists who described the process as burdensome and intimidating said the effect has been to limit treatment.

For example, the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission — which provides mental-health coverage to more than 100,000 state and municipal workers — last year began requiring out-of-network therapists to justify continued treatment in phone interviews rather than faxing in progress reports. The change was made in response to rapidly rising mental-health insurance costs.

Some say these tactics violate the federal parity law, which prohibits insurers from placing caps on addiction and mental-health services that don’t apply to other types of health care. “We are seeing what seem to be excessive preauthorization and other reviews that we don’t typically see for other medical services,’’ said Matt Selig, executive director of Health Law Advocates, a Boston public-interest law firm.

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