Patients seek appeal in landmark UnitedHealth mental health parity case

A group of patients is asking a federal appeals court to take another look at a ruling in favor of a UnitedHealthcare subsidiary in an ongoing legal fight over mental health coverage.

The dispute centers on two consolidated class-action suits filed against United Behavioral Health that alleged the insurer improperly denied thousands of claims for mental health care services. A district court sided with the patients in 2019, a landmark decision in a long-standing conversation about mental health parity. The insurer was directed to reprocess thousands of claims for behavioral health care.

However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision a year ago, ruling that UBH followed its plan terms in the coverage denials.

State governments, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have submitted amicus curiae briefs in support of the patients' appeal.

"Few cases could present a more urgent need for en banc review than this one," they wrote in the appeal filing. "The panel decision created three—yes, three—different circuit splits, contravened longstanding Circuit precedent, and disregarded the considered views of the U.S. government."

The plaintiffs argue that the circuit court's ruling would severe impacts that would be felt across the country if allowed to stand.

"By holding otherwise, the panel put medical necessity in the hands of UBH’s finance department rather than the medical community," they said. "And that holding will have incredibly dangerous nationwide consequences."