I am a class action attorney specializing in the Federal Parity Law and California’s Mental Health Parity Act. I represent patients exclusively in my practice, typically after their health care carriers have denied treatment. But my career didn’t start out this way.
I was an insurance company attorney for 25 years. I worked at private law firms for 15 years, defending national and international insurance companies against all sorts of lawsuits – coverage, bad faith, unfair competition and regulatory. I advanced to high-level coverage and class action work. In 2000, I began working in the class action section of the third largest insurance company in the country. I was promoted and became an Executive in Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for the company.
I enjoyed my work and the company. I view insurance companies as having an important social role in our culture. By banding together large groups of people, insurance companies “pool the risk” so that no one person sustains a catastrophic loss. Insurance supports economic certainty, for both individuals and their communities.
But over time, I was no longer a good fit at the company. The industry moved away from the social role of an insurer, focusing instead on profitability and attracting shareholders. I bristled at the practices I saw, and the adversarial attitude that was developing toward policyholders. Many of my colleagues were also disturbed by the change, and one of the organization’s top executives committed suicide. His widow attributed his death to the company’s “unbearable” pressure for profit, which conflicted with his belief in the social value of insurance.
When I left the insurance world and started my own practice, I had no clients and no cases. But I reached out to my adversaries from my old job; that is, the class action attorneys who had sued my former company. I found them surprisingly open and supportive of my transition to plaintiff’s work. So when a young man came to me because his insurance company stopped paying for his mental illness treatment, I knew what to do. I filed a class action against Anthem Blue Cross, which became the first class action to be successfully resolved under the California Mental Health Parity Act.
Now parity cases make up nearly all of my caseload. My work is both gratifying and challenging – a good combination. But no matter how satisfying my work is, it would be far better if insurance companies recognized and respected their payment obligations, and their social role in helping people with a loss or an illness. Until the industry changes its practices, class actions serve as a critical tool in preventing profits from eclipsing patient health care.