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California Rep. Porter Seeking to Promote Mental Health Care Coverage Through Congressional Bill

California Rep. Porter Seeking to Promote Mental Health Care Coverage Through Congressional Bill

House Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) speaks at a gathering with local leaders and mental health professionals at the Be Well OC offices in Orange, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Carol Cassis

Carol Cassis

9/1/2023

Updated: 9/1/2023

ORANGE, Calif.—House Rep. Katie Porter blasted insurance companies during a roundtable discussion Aug. 31, during which community nonprofits and healthcare experts discussed patient struggles to access treatment.
The two-hour roundtable, at Be Well OC’s Orange campus, was held to gain input from healthcare experts and community leaders amid Ms. Porter’s latest bid to “hold health insurance companies accountable” via the federal Mental Health Parity Act of 2006, which requires private medical insurance companies to cover a variety of mental and addiction treatments they may otherwise deny, such as therapy, follow-up care, and prescription medication.
During the meeting, Ms. Porter (D-Irvine), whose District 47 represents parts of South Orange County including Huntington Beach and Irvine, urged attendees to spread the word on the act’s resource hotline, which allows patients to call the Department of Labor for assistance in challenging insurance companies who deny their claims.
Her efforts, which include her own similar proposed bill, coincided with President Biden’s July 25 executive order, which strengthens the act by requiring health plans to make changes if they are providing “inadequate” access to mental health care. The order also, in part, closes loopholes that restrict access to services and limits increasing costs.
Ms. Porter said she is using input from the roundtable to bolster her bill—the Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act—which would require insurance companies to pay more claims for a variety of treatments, not just mental health and addiction. The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is currently in the public comment phase, wherein lawmakers review public input and concerns surrounding a bill, which ends in early October.
House Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) speaks at a gathering with local leaders and mental health professionals at the Be Well OC offices in Orange, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

House Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) speaks at a gathering with local leaders and mental health professionals at the Be Well OC offices in Orange, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“The fight is going to continue…we have to hold these insurance companies accountable,” Ms. Porter said during the meeting. “Health plans and insurance companies are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. When people are paying for coverage and not getting it, that’s called theft.”
Roundtable participants also had much to say about patients lacking adequate access to affordable healthcare despite paying for private insurance, criticizing such companies for creating “barriers to care.”
One such participant, University of California–Irvine psychologist Negar Shekarabi, said she was hired by the university to advocate and intervene on behalf of staff when health insurance companies deny claims or make it “difficult” to access needed care.
“The crazy thing is employers spend thousands of dollars to hire [support like Ms. Shekarabi] to fight with insurance companies who don’t want to cover treatments the employer is already paying for. That’s called theft,” Ms. Porter said during the meeting.
According to Ms. Shekarabi, despite having “great” insurance, school staff often struggle to receive needed mental health care from their insurance and frequently receive inadequate treatments that require her to intervene on their behalf.
“Primary complaints from our faculty is that [their mental health treatment] is not sufficient,” Ms. Shekarabi said during the meeting. “I’m often pulled into on-site responses to crisis situations [on campus].”
Department of Labor Secretary Lisa Gomez chimed in, calling out insurance companies by name, including Magellan, for creating unnecessary roadblocks to receive needed mental health care like therapy.
“It shouldn’t be more restrictive to access mental health care and treatment,” Ms. Gomez said. “Patients should be able to get the treatment they paid for without having to jump through so many hoops.”
U.S. Department of Labor Assistant Secretary Lisa M. Gomez (L) speaks at a gathering with local leaders and mental health professionals at the Be Well OC offices in Orange, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

U.S. Department of Labor Assistant Secretary Lisa M. Gomez (L) speaks at a gathering with local leaders and mental health professionals at the Be Well OC offices in Orange, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

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Carol Cassis

Carol Cassis

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California Insider
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