A class action lawsuit challenging health insurance companies’ refusal to cover the costs of medical cannabis has been moved to federal court, for now.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this year by a group of medical cannabis patients and one cannabis production company, originally asked a state district court judge to order New Mexico healthcare insurance companies to cover the costs of medical cannabis for members. The seven insurance providers in turn refiled the case in federal court, arguing that it is the appropriate venue because the plaintiffs’ claims are inherently tied to federal law.
In June, six New Mexico medical cannabis patients and cannabis producer Ultra Health filed the class action suit, arguing that the recent enaction of a state law requiring insurance providers to cover the costs of behavioral health services should also include medical cannabis. In turn, last week, lawyers for the insurance companies moved the case to federal court, arguing that the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which sets standards for many health insurance plans, “preempts” the plaintiffs’ claims. Lawyers for the insurance providers also justified moving the case to federal court because the lawsuit “necessarily raises disputed and substantial issues of federal law,” specifically whether the federal Controlled Substances Act allows a state to mandate coverage of a substance that is still federally illegal. The final claim justifying the move to federal court argues that the type of class action lawsuit the defendants filed should be in federal court.
The lawsuit came just months after the enactment of a state law that prohibits cost-sharing for behavioral health services. After signing the enacting legislation, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised the bill in a press release.
“We can make a real, meaningful difference by reducing the costs for those with insurance who seek help by eliminating the copays for behavioral health services – and I’m so proud and grateful to sign this priority measure,” Lujan Grisham said.
The state agency tasked with regulating insurance has maintained that the department, which is one of the governor’s cabinets, does not have the authority to force insurance providers to cover cannabis.
One of the plaintiffs is Albuquerque-based attorney and New Mexico state Sen. Jacob Candelaria.