By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With the most prolific heroin dealer in Hennepin County history sentenced to prison, a Twin Cities family is now taking on a Minnesota-based health insurance company.

Max Tillitt died two years ago from an overdose. His family tried desperately for years to get him help for his addiction. The Tillitts are one of more than 50,000 families taking United Healthcare to court, saying the company wrongfully denied coverage for years.

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The lawsuit was first filed in 2014 and will finally go to trial next month. It claims that again and again United Healthcare denied mental health and substance abuse treatment coverage, violating their customers’ insurance plans on a routine basis and making already heartbreaking circumstances that much more complicated.

“He suffered with the heroin for about three years,” Dee Dee Tillitt, Max’s mother, said.

A football injury sent Max Tillitt looking for pain relief in high school when he found heroin.

“There were so many days I wished he had cancer,” Dee Dee said. “Who would wish cancer on their kid? I would, because the disease is so horrible. So horrible.”

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Navigating a treatment plan only made things worse, with mounting bills over medications, psychiatrists and psychologists. In theory, health insurance companies should make that easier, but thousands of families across the country say that’s not the case.

They’re suing Minnetonka-based United Healthcare, which adjudicates mental health and substance abuse claims for more than one in five Americans, claiming it’s violating legal duties it owes to health insurance plan participants. The families say the company came up with guidelines that downplay chronic and complex mental health and substance abuse issues.

While attorneys didn’t want Dee Dee Tillitt to share specifics about the issues with their coverage, the family did spend more than $150,000 out-of-pocket trying to find Max help — and his mother works in the healthcare field. She says even that wasn’t enough to save her son.

“My goal is — how can I make this so other parents don’t have to go through this nightmare that I live, and continue to live?” she said.

United Healthcare released a statement on the lawsuit that said, in part: “We are committed to helping people receive the evidence-based mental health and substance use treatments they need.”

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The class action lawsuit is set to go to trial on Oct. 16 in San Francisco.

Liz Collin