ARBITRATION: Trade Group Changes Health Care Policy
The American Arbitration Association will no longer handle mandatory arbitrations between patients and health care providers over benefit denials, concluding that the stakes in such cases are simply too high. AAA Senior Vice President George Friedman said, "[W]ith a consumer it might be a computer or a house that's at stake, but here it's someone's life." The Wall Street Journal reports that most disputes over denied health benefits are currently settled by internal panels of doctors. However, critics call that system "biased" against patients. With Congress debating patients' rights legislation that "would require external review of decisions to deny benefits," arbitrators are expecting the volume of health care cases to "explode." The AAA, "the nation's largest alternative dispute-resolution provider," has long been a proponent of voluntary arbitration but previously had not "refused to administer" mandatory cases.
Troika Of Concerned Parties
The Wall Street Journal reports that the AAA's "change of heart grew out of" a joint committee composed of officials from AAA, the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association. Formed after the California Supreme Court blasted Kaiser Permanente's internal mandatory arbitration system, the committee "is expected to announce its recommendations late this month." "In addition to calling for voluntary arbitration and mediation of patient disputes," the joint committee is "expected" to recommend limiting waits on emergency medical decisions to 24 hours, with an independent doctor as arbitrator; providing patients with a lawyer in arbitration proceedings; releasing medical charts and awarding "the same damages in arbitration as in court." In an attempt to assure that the recommendations are adopted, the AAA will not "administer arbitrations for companies that don't adopt all" of the measures. The Journal notes that these recommendations do not apply to malpractice cases and that the policies may be extended to other areas of arbitration (Jacobs, 7/1).