Attorney General Neronha announces multistate effort to protect mental health and substance abuse disorder care in Rhode Island


PROVIDENCE, RI – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha joined attorneys general from Connecticut and Illinois today in filing an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit seeking to protect mental health and substance abuse disorder care in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Illinois. The filing was announced at a press conference earlier today featuring former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, lead author of the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.


In their brief, the states argue in support of a petition for a full court review of the Ninth Circuit’s recent ruling to overturn Wit v. United Behavioral Health (UBH), the landmark case that in 2019 found the nation’s largest managed behavioral health care company wrongfully denied mental health and addiction treatment coverage to tens of thousands of subscribers.


“For decades, Rhode Island has recognized that treatment for mental health and substance use disorders should be covered adequately by an individual’s insurance coverage plan,” said Attorney General Peter F. Neronha. “A recent court decision ignored our state law that has long ensured adequate coverage for Rhode Islanders seeking critical behavioral health treatment. Today, I am standing with colleagues from Connecticut and Illinois to fight against what is a significant risk to how individuals in our respective state’s will receive that essential care.”


Under the laws of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Illinois, a health insurance company can only limit treatment for substance-use disorders in accordance with industry-standard medical criteria, known as the ASAM (American Society for Addiction Medicine) Criteria.


In 2019, the trial court in Wit found that UBH had violated state laws by using its own, more restrictive criteria to wrongfully deny mental health and addiction treatment coverage to tens of thousands of subscribers.


In March 2022, that ruling was overturned, setting a dangerous precedent for how treatment can be covered nationwide. The state’s brief argues that the Court should grant a petition for en banc review and rehear the case.


“We are on the cusp of major change when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment in this country,” said former U.S. Rep. (D-RI) and founder of The Kennedy Forum, Patrick J. Kennedy. “No longer will we accept subpar coverage from our insurers for behavioral challenges that dramatically impact health and well-being. By standing up to the 3-judge panel’s flawed ruling in Wit, state attorneys general Neronha, Tong, and Raoul are walking the walk not only for their constituents, but for every American who shares this common struggle.”


Protecting mental health and substance abuse disorder care in Rhode Island

Rhode Island has long been at the forefront of ensuring those who suffer from mental health and substance use disorders receive adequate insurance coverage for treatment. In 1994, Rhode Island’s General Assembly passed legislation requiring any group or individual health plan to provide coverage for treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. In 2015, recognizing the premier expertise of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) for those battling substance use disorders, the General Assembly amended the law to require that payors “rely upon the criteria of the American Society of Addiction Medicine when developing coverage for levels of care for substance use disorder treatment.”


Rhode Island has also been steadfast in its commitment to holding insurers accountable for violating such laws. Previously, the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner (OHIC) ordered United Healthcare (parent company of UBH) to pay a state fine of $350,000 in addition to a $2.85 million contribution to benefit mental health parity infrastructure and behavioral health-focused community programs. OHIC further ordered UBH to pay a $100,000 administrative penalty in a consent order related to the same conduct covered in Wit.


From 2011 to 2020 Rhode Island saw a 108% increase in annual overdose fatalities. Rhode Island’s annual accidental drug overdoses increased from 190 in 2011 to 397 in 2020. Furthermore, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, 6.9% of adults in Rhode Island report alcohol use disorder and 3% of adults in Rhode Island report illicit drug use disorder.


Joining Attorney General Peter F. Neronha in filing the brief are Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.


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