On May 11, Lisa Kantor argued before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, on behalf of client Jeanene Harlick, who has suffered from anorexia for more than 20 years. Ms. Harlick entered a residential treatment facility on the advice of her doctor. After initially approving coverage for the treatment, Ms. Harlick’s insurer Blue Shield denied coverage after only 10 days, even though the insurer agreed that such treatment was medically necessary.
Ms. Kantor contends that Blue Shield abused its discretion in denying coverage and that its actions violate California’s Mental Health Parity Act, which mandates that health plans provide the same coverage for severe mental illness as they provide for physical disease. In Harlick’s case, Blue Shield covers sub-acute treatment for physical conditions at skilled nursing facilities. At the same time, Blue Shield denies responsibility for the cost of sub-acute treatment for severe mental illness at residential treatment facilities.
“For the act to have any real meaning,” argues Ms. Kantor, “Blue Shield must provide the same levels of health services for severe mental illness as it does for physical illness. Otherwise the purpose and plain language of the statute is violated, and the discrimination against those with severe mental illness, which the statute was designed to correct, will be allowed to continue.”
Ms. Kantor is among only a few lawyers in the country who include as part of their practices representation of people with eating disorders who have been denied benefits for residential treatment. The fight has occupied two fronts: while regularly scoffing at both state and federal mental health laws to deny coverage, some insurers – including Blue Shield – rewrote policies effective Jan. 1, 2011, to specifically deny benefits for the 24-hour supervised care many people with eating disorders require for recovery. Instead, these insurers only pay for 9-hour day treatment outside of residential facilities. This new policy has already begun to erode the gains made by many people who have fought to have residential treatment care paid for by their insurance companies.
The International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals filed an amicus brief in support of Ms. Harlick and the contention that California Mental Health Parity Law applies to her case, Harlick v. Blue Shield of California, 10-15595. You can listen to the oral argument before the court by clicking here: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/view_subpage.php?pk_id=0000007519
For more information about Lisa Kantor and legal assistance for eating disorders, follow this link: http://www.kantorlaw.net/Areas_of_Practice/Eating_Disorders.aspx.