Cause of Action Asserted Against Blue Cross for Violation of Montana's Unfair Trade Practices Act is Not Preempted by ERISA
In a recent decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that ERISA does not preempt causes of action based on unfair insurance practice claims brought under Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. However, the Court did find that Montana’s so-called “little HIPAA” was preempted by federal HIPAA, which is part of ERISA.
In Fossen v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield, __ F.3d __ (9th Cir. October 18, 2011), the Court considered an appeal from a District Court ruling that entered summary judgment in favor of Blue Cross on two causes of action. Plaintiffs – which consisted of three brothers, their corporations and a partnership of the three corporations – sued Blue Cross after the health insurer increased their premiums by over 40%. The lawsuit, filed in state court, alleged two causes of action: violation of Montana Code Annotated § 33-22-526(a) (also known as Montana’s “little HIPAA” statute) and violation of Montana Code Annotated § 33-18-101 (also known as Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices Act). Plaintiffs alleged that premium increase violated little HIPAA’s prohibition against imposing a “premium or contribution that is greater than the premium or contribution for a similarly situated individual” on account of "any health status-related factor of the individual” and the Unfair Trade Practices Act’s prohibition against “unfair discrimination between individuals of the same class and of essentially the same hazard in the amount of premium, policy fees, or rates charged.” The action, filed in state court, was removed to the District Court, which eventually granted Blue Cross’ motion for summary judgment as to all causes of action.Continue Reading