On March 4, 2013, the United States Supreme Court brought Jeanene Harlick's nearly eight-year struggle to a successful end. Ms. Harlick sought to obtain benefits for residential treatment for her eating disorder from Blue Shield of California, her health insurance company. After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor, Blue Shield of California filed a petition for writ of certiorari. In denying this request to hear the case, the Supreme Court effectively ended Ms. Harlick's legal battle. As a result, the Ninth Circuit's decision in Harlick v. Blue Shield of California continues to be the law in California.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that insurance companies issuing health insurance policies in California may not exclude residential treatment for severe mental illnesses. The Ninth Circuit found that the California Mental Health Parity Act requires health plans to provide coverage of "all medically necessary treatment" for "severe mental illnesses" under "the same financial terms as those applied to physical illnesses."
The United States Supreme Court's decision is a reminder of the lengths that insurance companies will go to protect their profits. But it also shows the tenacity of clients who are willing to hold insurance companies accountable and responsible when claims are unreasonably denied. Finally, it brings focus on the need for insurance companies to cover treatment for persons with severe mental illnesses.