MPA highlights legislative priorities

By Colleen McMilin
August 5th, 2023

Legislation for participation in PSYPACT® and to improve transparency of consumer health insurance rights and parity are among the priorities supported by the Massachusetts Psychological Association.

The Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT), created by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB), was designed to facilitate the practice of telepsychology and the temporary in-person, face-to-face practice of psychology across state borders.

Under the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, mental health providers were able to treat patients virtually under relaxed regulations governing telehealth. These flexibilities ended this past spring.

If established through MA S.1980 and MA H.2986, Massachusetts would become the 38th state, plus the District of Columbia, to participate in PSYPACT, ® leading to increased availability of mental health services for individuals living within Massachusetts as well as those who move outside the state, travel throughout the year, or return to their home state during school breaks.

The MPA feels this flexibility is necessary in the wake of COVID-19, which exacerbated the problems of mental healthcare services with increased cases of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

The lack of resources further compounded the issue, with seven in 10 psychologists reporting growing wait lists with clients waiting up to six months or longer to receive care, according to the American Psychological Association (2021).

Last summer, Massachusetts General Hospital had 880 people on it wait list for psychiatric services, for example.

Referring to a second priority, Andrea Barnes, director of professional affairs at MPA, noted an individual’s health insurance card could provide consumers with additional details pertaining to their rights under MA S. 602 and MA H.937, “An Act Relative to Transparency of Consumer Health Insurance Rights.”

“Massachusetts has been very forward thinking in a lot of its mental health legislation, but some plans come under state law, and some don’t and it’s a very complex marketplace out there,” Barnes said.

“Someone can hand you a Blue Cross card, but until you know a whole lot more information, you don’t know the basic rules that you are playing by,” she said.

Consumers often do not know whether they are required to follow Massachusetts law, which makes a difference in terms of both basic benefits and in identifying the entity to which complaints are directed, according to Barnes.

By distinguishing state-insured plans from self-funded plans, consumers would know how to hold insurers accountable. Currently state-insured plans are subject to Massachusetts regulations whereas self-funded plans are regulated by more lenient federal regulations.

Barnes said without the ability to identify the plan they have; consumers and providers do not have the information they need to know their rights.

MPA is also supporting MA H.939, “An Act to Update Mental Health Parity.” Noting that “parity has been a long-standing priority,” Barnes explained the legislation aims to ensure that health plans are meeting current mental health parity requirements by targeting barriers to access not present in medical services and by strengthening regulatory oversight of health plans.

The organization believes mental health care needs to be covered at the same level as care for other health conditions. Insurers have set arbitrary caps for the number of mental health visits an individual is allowed under a set plan. Parity laws help to stop this practice only if they are enforced.

Each legislative session, the MPA, comprised of paid staff and volunteers, identifies legislative areas to focus on based on the needs of their providers, patients, and the mental healthcare system.

The 193rd Massachusetts legislative session runs for two years beginning January 2023. There are currently no scheduled hearing dates for the above-mentioned bills. For more information, see the MPA website for updates.

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