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NABH Issue Brief: Details About 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling to Overturn Wit v. United Behavioral Health Decision

In a blow to parity this week, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a trial court’s Wit v. United Behavioral Health (UBH) decision, asserting that UBH’s interpretation that health insurance plans do not require consistency with generally accepted standards of care (GASC) “was not unreasonable.”

This NABH Issue Brief highlights brief background on the earlier decision from the trial court, as well as the main points of the three-judge panel’s reversal of that decision this week in its seven-page ruling:

  • The original Wit decision determined that patients’ health and safety are protected when clinicians provide services consistent with GASC that are established by not-for-profit, professional associations, rather than insurance companies whose financial incentives often conflict with what is best for patients.
  • The three-judge panel said it is “not unreasonable” for health insurers’ coverage determinations to be inconsistent with GASC; however, the trial court’s decision, including two 100-page decisions, described how UBH made medical coverage decisions based on financial interests.
  • In its ruling, the appellate court’s three-judge panel did not cite one holding or one fact that the trial court concluded, despite the trial court’s exhaustive trial findings.
  • The trial court’s decision explained UBH’s misrepresentation to regulators that UBH used American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) criteria when, in fact, the company modified and ultimately undercut the actual ASAM criteria.
  • The appellate court’s three-judge panel ruled that UBH is not obligated to cover treatment consistent with GASC if the treatment is not a covered benefit; however, the plaintiffs did not argue that UBH was obligated to cover all services consistent with GASC. Instead, the plaintiffs argued that if services—such as outpatient, intensive outpatient, and residential treatment—are covered benefits, UBH must make medical necessity determinations that are consistent with GASC.

The deeply flawed ruling from the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has the potential for worsening America’s mental health and addiction crises as the critical need for mental health and addiction treatment services continues to rise during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. NABH will continue to fight for true mental health addiction treatment parity and expanded access to care for all who need it.