Every once in awhile. The latest victory for people and their loved ones in the challenge to attain, and maintain, long-term sobriety, culminated in Governor Phil Murphy affixing his signature to the Parity Bill on April 11. The legislation had been a priority for the NCADD-NJ Advocates, staff and partners for many years. NCADD-NJ has convened and hosted the NJ Parity Coalition for some time, and efforts intensified with the introduction of Senate Bill 1339 and Assembly Bill 2031. The measure requires insurance carriers to document steps they’ve taken to ensure their health plans are in compliance with existing federal and state parity laws. These health insurance policies would not be available for sale to the public without demonstrated assurance that the plans are parity-compliant.
For more than ten years, federal law has mandated that health insurance policies reimburse for mental health and substance use treatment on a par with the manner in which there is reimbursement for physical, medical and surgical conditions. The responsibility for implementing these requirements, however, was given largely to the states. In the Garden State, the responsibility falls mostly to the Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI). The Dept. must audit the plans, collect relevant data, determine compliance, report annually to the Governor and Legislature as to their findings, and place all relevant information that would be helpful to consumers on its public website. Up to now, the process was complaint-driven. Consumers would have to appeal an insurance denial, become conversant in parity strictures, non-quantitative and non-qualitative treatment limits, and essentially become insurance regulations experts. On June 11, when the new law takes effect, it would be the obligation of insurance experts at DOBI to certify that health insurance plans that are sold in the state guarantee to offer what is advertised.
The enactment of this new statute is the fulfillment of the quest of families who’ve been denied therapy coverage, service providers who’ve been prevented from delivering needed treatment to their clients in need, and to social justice advocates from every corner of the state. More than once during his remarks at the Parity Bill Signing Ceremony, Governor Murphy thanked the advocates “who got this bill to me.” This illuminates the point, that little gets through the public policy process without the dedicated efforts of citizen-advocates who draw attention to a problem, devise a solution, and press decision-makers to be responsive. It was encouraging to note that the Commissioners of the Departments of Human Services and Banking and Insurance were also present at the April 11 event and pledged to ensure that the mandates of the parity measure would be assertively enforced. Marlene Caride, DOBI Commissioner, announced she would begin the work with a statewide series of hearings to elicit from consumers their parity-related complaints and suggestions.
To ensure the new law is not a “dead letter,” NCADD-NJ and its partners in the NJ Parity Coalition, know the next steps will be to monitor and influence its enforcement. We will participate in the DOBI Listening Tour and assist in collecting relevant data. We will involve ourselves in the “rule-making” process at DOBI of promulgating the requisite regulations to implement the parity statute. We will assist DOBI in designing an audit of the insurance plans to collect the most relevant data on parity compliance. And we will join in a public education campaign to let individuals and businesses know of the protections of this new law.
The enactment of the parity bill is a superior achievement for NCADD-NJ Advocates who called the Governor’s Office, communicated with their elected officials, testified at public hearings, and spoke publicly in the press, all about the need for this reform.
You can see the signing here: