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








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, NYHealth 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 organized and facilitated 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 was 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 educated consumer and family advocates about parity protections and rights (see toolkit here); coordinated a focused advocacy initiative among consumer networks; and pushed for the enactment of complementary policies and/or enhancements to regulatory oversight that strengthen the existing parity law. LAC also researched and compiled parity compliance issues, as well as provided assistance with lodging parity and other treatment access complaints to regulators. To assess the working group’s impact, LAC collected and measured data to determine whether the project helped to increase compliance rates and reduce complaints. To share lessons learned, LAC developed a communications and advocacy strategy using social media, consumer stories, and other educational materials targeted for different audiences, including policymakers, advocates, and consumers.