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Healthcare Groups Request Review of Three-Judge Panel’s Ruling in Wit v. United Behavioral Health

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ONDCP Releases Plan to Reduce Methamphetamine Supply and Save Lives

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on Monday released the Biden administration’s plan to reduce the supply of methamphetamine and save lives as meth-related overdose deaths are rising in the United States.

Designed to reduce meth use and prevent meth-involved overdoses, the 25-page plan is also intended to expand access to evidence-based treatment and reduce the trafficking and supply of meth.

“The tragic rise in methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths requires immediate action,” ONDCP Director Rahul Gupta, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., FACP said in his agency’s announcement. “This bold, new action plan builds on the president’s National Drug Control Strategy by expanding access to evidence-based prevention, treatment, and harm reduction strategies, as well as reducing the supply of methamphetamine and other illicit drugs by going after drug trafficking organizations,” Dr. Gupta continued. “This comprehensive and forward-looking action plan will help make our communities healthier and safer.”

The plan applies a public health and safety approach that emphasizes treatment services, harm-reduction services, prevention in schools nationwide, training and education, domestic law enforcement coordination, federal oversight of pill press equipment, international partnerships to disrupt trafficking, and expanded training for domestic and international law enforcement agencies involved in disrupting meth distribution.

NABH participates in the Motivational Incentives Policy Workgroup that has met with ONDCP about broadly implementing the evidence-based treatment practice of contingency management, which the new plan highlights.

You can learn more about the Biden administration’s National Drug Control Strategy at the NABH 2022 Annual Meeting, when Dr. Gupta will address attendees on Tuesday, June 14 at 9:30 a.m. ET in the Grand Ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental Washington, DC.

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NABH Response to RFI on Access to Coverage and Care in Medicaid and CHIP

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President Biden Sends National Drug Control Policy to Congress

President Biden on Thursday sent his administration’s inaugural National Drug Control Policy to Congress with the goal of using a whole-of-government approach to combat the nation’s overdose crisis.

The comprehensive strategy focuses on the main drivers of the crisis—untreated addiction and drug trafficking—as it directs federal agencies to take actions that will expand access to evidence-based prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery services, while also reducing the supply of drugs.

The plan comes as the nation continues to produce grim statistics: for the first time in America’s history, the country has passed the milestone of 100,000 deaths resulting from drug overdoses in a 12-month period. Meanwhile, since 1999, drug overdoses have killed approximately 1 million Americans.

A message from President Bident to Congress at the beginning of the strategy explains the Office of National Drug Control Policy led the effort to produce the strategy in close collaboration with the 18 national drug control agencies. In addition, the Biden administration involved more than 2,000 leaders and stakeholders, including Congress, all 50 Governors, and advocates representing public safety, public health, community groups, local governments, and Tribal communities.

An important component of the strategy is its emphasis on harm reduction, an approach that works with people who use drugs to prevent overdose and infectious disease transmission; improve the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of those served; and offer flexible options for accessing substance use disorder treatment and other health care services.

“We are changing how we help people when it comes to drug use, by meeting them where they are with high-impact harm reduction services and removing barriers to effective treatment for addiction,” Rahul Gupta, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., director of National Drug Control Policy, said in the document, “while addressing the underlying factors that lead to substance use disorder head on.”

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NABH Supports BHIT Now Act

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Thorn Run Partners Memo: Medicare & Medicaid PHE Flexibilities

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President Biden’s 2023 Budget Seeks to Transform U.S. Behavioral Healthcare Delivery

President Biden is proposing new, mandatory investments totaling $51.7 billion over 10 years to enhance behavioral healthcare in America in the fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget proposal he released Monday.

Among the budget blueprint’s most notable behavioral health provisions is the president’s request of $697 million for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to ensure that 100% of contacts are answered for the new 988 behavioral health crisis hotline that will begin to operate in July. This is an increase of $590 million from what was enacted for fiscal year 2022.

Another significant provision is the president’s proposal for a new, $7.5 billion Mental Health System Transformation Fund through Medicaid to increase access to mental health services through workforce development and service expansion, including the development of non-traditional health delivery sites, the integration of quality mental health and substance use care into primary care settings, and the dissemination of evidence-based practices.

President Biden’s budget also provides an investment of $397 million for the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Behavioral Health Workforce Development Programs, which is $235 million above FY 2022 enacted level. This funding is intended to increase training of new behavioral healthcare providers, including a track for health support workers such as peers and community health workers. The program also places an emphasis on team-based care.

This investment is meant to promote inclusive and equitable behavioral healthcare for youth and focus on the knowledge and understanding of children, adolescents, and youth at risk for a mental health disorder, serious emotional disturbance, or substance use disorder (SUD). The budget also includes increases in primary care training and enhancement and nurse education, practice, and retention to expand behavioral health services into primary care.

The FY 2023 budget provides $4.6 billion for SAMHSA’s mental health activities, an increase of $2.5 billion above the FY 2022 enacted level. These investments would provide a historic investment in the Behavior Health Crisis Services; expand access to crisis services; ensure access to early intervention and prevention services to the nation’s vulnerable populations; and invest in children’s mental health.

NABH is pleased to see President Biden’s budget calls for improving compliance with behavioral health parity standards by requiring plans and issuers to use medical necessity criteria for behavioral health services that are consistent with the criteria developed by not-for-profit medical specialty associations. The proposal would also place limits on the consideration of profit in determinations of medical necessity.

The budget would authorize the secretaries of the U.S. Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury Departments to regulate behavioral health network adequacy, and to issue regulations on a standard for parity in reimbursement rates based on the results of comparative analyses submitted by plans and issuers at a cost of $720 million over 10 years.

The budget proposes requiring all plans and issuers to cover three behavioral health visits and three primary care visits each year without charging a copayment, co-insurance or deductible-related fee.  And it would provide $125 million in mandatory funding over five years for grants to states to enforce mental health and SUD parity requirements.  Any funds not expended by states at the end of five fiscal years would remain available to the HHS secretary to make additional mental health parity grants.

It also proposes to eliminate the ability of self-insured non-federal governmental plans to opt out of parity, affording state and municipal employees the same consumer protections that apply to other employees with private health insurance.

In Medicare, the president’s budget would eliminate the 190-day lifetime limit and would require Medicare to cover up to three behavioral health visits per year without cost-sharing.

Also related to the Medicare program, current law requires the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to terminate psychiatric hospital participation in Medicare after six months of non-compliance with conditions of participation, even if the deficiency does not jeopardize patient health and wellbeing.  This provision does not apply to any other provider category. The president’s proposal would give CMS flexibility to allow a psychiatric hospital to continue receiving Medicare payments when deficiencies are not considered to immediately jeopardize the health and safety of its patients and where the facility is actively working to correct the deficiencies identified in an approved Plan of Correction.  This provision is considered budget-neutral and would not have cost implications.

Among other provisions, the White House budget proposal would also establish a Medicare benefit category for licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists that authorizes direct billing and payment under Medicare for these practitioners; remove limits on the scope of services for which Medicare can pay clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, and marriage and family therapists; and allow these practitioners to bill Medicare directly for their mental health services for covered Part A qualifying Skilled Nursing Facility stays.

And the proposal would ensure that mental health and SUD benefits under Medicare do not face greater limitations on reimbursement or access to care relative to medical and surgical benefits.  The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) would be required to issue a report to identify existing gaps in mental health and substance use disorder benefits to be addressed in the Medicare statute.

Specifically for SUD, President Biden has proposed $519 million, more than double the 2022 enacted level, for the Family Violence Prevention and Services program. This is the primary federal funding stream dedicated to the support of emergency shelter and related assistance for victims of domestic violence and their children.

The funding represents an increase of $292 million over FY 2022 enacted for the base program’s shelters and supportive services. This funding provides services to an estimated 1.3 million children and families to prevent family violence, domestic violence, and dating violence. This includes $250 million in cash assistance for domestic violence survivors and $30 million for the Safe Recovery Together demonstration grants. The demonstration grants will support families affected by domestic violence at the intersection of substance-use coercion, housing instability, and child welfare involvement.

President Biden’s FY 2023 budget also proposes:

  • $413 million to SAMHSA in FY 2023, and $4.1 billion over 10 years, for community health centers
  • A $238 million increase above the FY 2022 enacted level in funding for Certified Community Behavioral Health Center Expansion Grants
  • An increase in the amount of Mental Health Block Grant funds reserved for crisis intervention services to 10% from 5%
  • An investment of $11.4 billion, including $10.8 billion in discretionary funding, in programs addressing opioids and overdose-related activities across HHS.

After President Biden kicked off the federal budget process on Monday with his budget proposal, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young testified Tuesday before the House Budget Committee. Director Young will take more questions from the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, congressional appropriators will begin their work soon, starting with a House Appropriations Committee hearing this Thursday that will feature U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra.

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NABH Issue Brief: Details About 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling to Overturn Wit v. United Behavioral Health Decision

In a blow to parity this week, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a trial court’s Wit v. United Behavioral Health (UBH) decision, asserting that UBH’s interpretation that health insurance plans do not require consistency with generally accepted standards of care (GASC) “was not unreasonable.”

This NABH Issue Brief highlights brief background on the earlier decision from the trial court, as well as the main points of the three-judge panel’s reversal of that decision this week in its seven-page ruling:

  • The original Wit decision determined that patients’ health and safety are protected when clinicians provide services consistent with GASC that are established by not-for-profit, professional associations, rather than insurance companies whose financial incentives often conflict with what is best for patients.
  • The three-judge panel said it is “not unreasonable” for health insurers’ coverage determinations to be inconsistent with GASC; however, the trial court’s decision, including two 100-page decisions, described how UBH made medical coverage decisions based on financial interests.
  • In its ruling, the appellate court’s three-judge panel did not cite one holding or one fact that the trial court concluded, despite the trial court’s exhaustive trial findings.
  • The trial court’s decision explained UBH’s misrepresentation to regulators that UBH used American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) criteria when, in fact, the company modified and ultimately undercut the actual ASAM criteria.
  • The appellate court’s three-judge panel ruled that UBH is not obligated to cover treatment consistent with GASC if the treatment is not a covered benefit; however, the plaintiffs did not argue that UBH was obligated to cover all services consistent with GASC. Instead, the plaintiffs argued that if services—such as outpatient, intensive outpatient, and residential treatment—are covered benefits, UBH must make medical necessity determinations that are consistent with GASC.

The deeply flawed ruling from the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has the potential for worsening America’s mental health and addiction crises as the critical need for mental health and addiction treatment services continues to rise during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. NABH will continue to fight for true mental health addiction treatment parity and expanded access to care for all who need it.

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NABH Submits Comments to CMS About MA Network Adequacy

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