Once-suicidal woman sues Lovelace over denied benefits

Posted at: 01/08/2014 11:07 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Lovelace Health Systems faces a class-action lawsuit after a woman claims the company refused to pay for residential treatment that, in part, saved her life.

20-year-old Emily Haddaway and her attorneys claim Lovelace continues to violate New Mexico’s Mental Health Parity law which was implemented in 2000.

“This is the first lawsuit of its kind,” attorney Josh Ewing said in an interview with 4 On Your Side.

He said the law requires that insurance plans not limit treatment options for mental health benefits unless identical limitations are placed on benefits for other medical conditions.

In Haddaway’s case, Ewing said Lovelace doesn’t want to pay for months of residential treatment she received in 2011.

“Obviously, insurance companies make money by denying claims-- or they make more money when they deny claims,” Ewing said.  “When you add in people who are dealing with not only the mental illness challenging their life, but the social stigma of having that mental illness, they make for an easy target for insurance companies.”

Ewing is working with Meiram Bendat who founded Psych-Appeal, Inc. in Los Angeles.  Bendat is an attorney who has a background in clinical psychology.  He told 4 On Your Side that he’s handling more and more cases like Haddaway’s across the country.

“Oh, dozens,” he said.

Haddaway said she’s suffered from depression since she was in grade school.  She said the condition worsened part way through her sophomore year in high school.

“I became really depressed, and I stopped doing my schoolwork, I would skip classes and eventually I just dropped out of school altogether,” she said.

Ultimately, Haddaway said she suffered from suicidal thoughts.

According to the lawsuit, one of her doctors explained to Lovelace that Haddaway needed residential treatment.  In part, the doctor wrote, “…it was determined that Emily’s life was at substantial risk and that long-term residential treatment of her severe mental illness was the only practicable option.”

Lovelace ultimately denied the claim for a final time, Haddaway said.

A company spokesperson told 4 On Your Side that they would not comment on pending litigation.

Haddaway said she’s covered under her mother’s health insurance.  She said her mother’s employer switched to Lovelace during her residential treatment.  The first insurance provider covered roughly half of the treatment without an issue, according to Haddaway’s family.

Haddaway’s family members said her treatment cost about $70,000 total.  They’re seeking roughly $35,000 from Lovelace.

The once-suicidal Haddaway is now studying business at the University of New Mexico.  She plans to travel to Australia at the end of the month to take part in an exchange program.

Haddaway and her attorneys encourage any other New Mexican to step forward if they feel their insurance company wrongfully denied coverage for mental health treatment.

“We would like to hear from them,” attorney Ewing said.