Father Demands Insurer Pay for Outdoor Therapy

(CN) – A father claims Blue Cross Blue Shield’s blanket refusal to pay for his daughter’s therapy just because it took place at an outdoor wilderness program is discriminatory against people who suffer from mental health disorders.

Jeffrey Chaney is covered by an employee health plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. Chaney’s daughter, M.C., who is covered under her father’s plan, has suffered for years with depression, bulimia and drug abuse, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in Minnesota federal court.

In 2015, at the recommendation of her therapist, M.C. agreed to go to an outdoor behavioral therapy program in Colorado called Open Sky Wilderness. The program emphasizes holistic, family-centered treatment in a wilderness environment.

The program costs $40,000, but BCBS allegedly declined to pay for any of it, claiming its policy does not pay for “skills training and lodging programs.”

In his lawsuit, Chaney says the insurer’s blanket exclusion of outdoor behavioral therapy violates the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.

“While at Open Sky, M.C. received medically necessary mental health services, including psychiatric evaluation, individual therapy, group therapy and family therapy, all of which would have been authorized for coverage by BCBS if they had been delivered in another type of setting,” the father claims.

The Parity Act was designed to improve coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders as compared to physical medical conditions.

While an insurer may lawfully deny coverage for any mental health treatment, BCBS’s “blanket exclusion for services rendered at wilderness treatment programs is a separate treatment limitation applicable only to mental health benefits and thus violative of the Parity Act,” according to the complaint.

Chaney seeks an award of benefits that he and other class members paid for services at residential treatment centers, plus disgorgement of all profits the insurer gained through the collection of money that should have been used to pay legitimate claims.

He is represented by Jordan Lewis in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and by Patrick Sheehan with Whatley Kallas in Boston.

BCBS of Minnesota spokesperson Keith Hovis declined to comment on pending litigation.

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