For more than a decade, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) has banned insurers from treating mental health problems significantly differently from physical issues. By federal law, we’re protected against discrimination in insurance on the basis of mental health conditions.

But the reality is that too many insurance companies appear to find it pays to deny coverage for mental health issues. Among the few options customers have is to take the companies to court to make their actions match their responsibilities under the law.

Americans have stopped living longer

Generation after generation of Americans got used to living longer with forever increasing life expectancies. But U.S. life expectancy has now dropped in every one of the last three years. That hasn’t happened since 1915-1917, when World War One killed about 18 million people globally and the Spanish Flue killed about 50 million.

Mental health is the key

According the Center for Disease Control, life expectancy is a reliable measure of the overall health of Americans and of the effectiveness of our health care system. It’s declining for two very avoidable reasons, both of them epidemics of deadly mental health problems.

First, drug overdoses. About one in 2500 Americans between the ages of 35 and 44 died of an overdose in 2017. Overdoses killed more than 70,000 Americans overall. Second, suicide. More than 47,000 Americans died of suicide in 2017, with the suicide rate still steadily climbing.

Laws ignored, but lawsuits fighting back

MHPAEA, the mental health parity act, required health care plans that include mental health to have comparable levels of coverage for mental and physical health. It was part of the legislation enacted to ease the 2008 financial crisis, but its sponsor told Bloomberg News that insurers widely ignored it, at least at first. The 2010 Affordable Care Act then mandated that commercial health insurance plans must include mental health, with parity.

Two years ago, the final report of the current president’s commission on the opioid crisis reported that “The health insurers are not following the federal law requiring parity in the reimbursement for mental health and addiction. They must be held responsible.”