On Friday September 25, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law that strengthens and expands mental health parity protections in California. This law amends the California Mental Health Parity Act by adding significant new protections that are good news for participants in both group and individual healthcare insurance policies (including disability policies that cover healthcare), and bad news for insurance companies that have continued to unfairly deny medically necessary coverage for the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. Co-Founding Partner Lisa S. Kantor, working with other mental health advocates and one of the bill’s sponsors, was instrumental in the development of this law.
Among other highlights, the new law now covers all generally recognized mental health disorders as well as substance use disorders, whereas the prior law only covered a list of nine mental health disorders that were deemed severe. The legislature found the prior list was “not only incomplete and out-of-date, but also fails to encompass the range of mental health and substance use disorders whose complex interactions are contributing to overdose deaths from opioids and methamphetamines, the increase in suicides, and other so-called deaths of despair.”
The law clarifies that insurers must cover treatment at all intermediate levels of care for mental health and substance use disorders, including residential care, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient treatment. The legislation expressly cites two groundbreaking decisions in cases brought by Kantor & Kantor’s Co-Founding Partner Lisa Kantor – Harlick v. Blue Shield of California, and Rea v. Blue Shield of California – in which courts in California required residential treatment be covered under the prior law. Nevertheless, insurers have continued to insist that the California Mental Health Parity Act does not mandate necessary residential treatment for mental health disorder patients, an argument that should no longer be viable.