Special Projects Fund

Project Title

New York Friends and Family Substance Use and Mental Health Parity Working Group

Grant Amount


Priority Area

Special Projects Fund

Date Awarded

March 23, 2018





In Progress



Nearly 2 million New Yorkers have substance use problems, and more than 3.5 million experienced symptoms of mental illness in the last year.

In 2016, 1,700 New Yorkers died by suicide and more than 1,200 overdosed on opioids. In New York City, heroin overdoses killed four times as many people as homicide. Treatment rates remain low, however, despite the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Parity Act), which mandates that Medicaid managed care and most private insurers cover mental health and substance use disorders comparably to medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. The majority of families and consumers seeking treatment for substance use and mental illness do not know that the Parity Act exists, much less how to claim their right to coverage under it. In March 2018, NYSHealth awarded Legal Action Center of the City of New York (LAC) a grant to support the launch of an initiative to ensure that New Yorkers with substance use disorders and mental illness are able to obtain the treatment they need, when they need it, as required by the Parity Act.

Under this grant, LAC will organize and facilitate the New York Friends and Family Parity Working Group, comprising directly affected individuals, families, and peer recovery support organizations for mental illness and substance use disorders. The working group will be part of the Parity@10 Compliance Campaign, a 10-state, multi-faceted Parity Act enforcement campaign spearheaded by LAC and other national organizations. The New York Friends and Family Parity Working Group will educate consumer and family advocates about parity protections and rights; coordinate a focused advocacy initiative among consumer networks; and push for the enactment of complementary policies and/or enhancements to regulatory oversight that strengthen the existing parity law. LAC will also research and compile parity compliance issues, as well as provide assistance with lodging parity and other treatment access complaints to regulators. To assess the working group’s impact, LAC will collect and measure data to determine whether the project helped to increase compliance rates and reduce complaints. To share lessons learned, LAC will develop a communications and advocacy strategy using social media, consumer stories, and other educational materials targeted for different audiences, including policymakers, advocates, and consumers.