HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” Tackles Mental Health Care and Parity
Last night, comedian John Oliver, host of “Last Week Tonight,” addressed “cracks in our broken mental health care system” in a segment informed by Patrick J. Kennedy and senior policy advisor David Lloyd (producers reached out to The Kennedy Forum in early June). The piece spotlighted several people who have struggled to secure mental health care, including a family that initially paid over 80,000 out of pocket after their health plan denied coverage for inpatient treatment for their son.
The segment reinforced the critical importance of Wit v. United Behavioral Health (UBH). The U.S. District Court for Northern California ruled in 2019 that UBH ignored accepted clinical standards to prioritize profit over people’s needs, but the ruling was recently reversed by a 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. If left unaddressed, the panel’s ruling would establish a harmful precedent for other insurers—amidst a historic mental health and addiction crisis. The ripple effects of a Wit ruling impact the health care of over 130 million Americans. Learn more here.
Oliver also recognized California as having “one of the most comprehensive parity laws in the country,” requiring that insurers base medical necessity determinations on current generally accepted standards of mental health care “instead of just making up the criteria themselves.” The Kennedy Forum co-sponsored this legislation (SB 855) alongside our partner, Steinberg Institute. It ultimately became the basis of our Jim Ramstad Model State Legislation, which has inspired policy action in Illinois, Georgia, and Oregon as well.