Assembly Health Committee Rejects Bill to Allow HMO Patients to Bypass Mandatory Arbitration
The Assembly Health Committee Tuesday rejected a Senate-passed bill (SB 458) that would have allowed patients to bypass mandatory arbitration and file lawsuits against HMOs in cases where patients "suffer significant damage" as a result of a denial of care, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports (Rizo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 6/20). On an initial vote to pass the bill, the committee tied 6-6 with eight members abstaining, effectively killing the measure. However, the committee voted to reconsider the bill at a later time (Assembly Web site). Most health plans currently require patients to participate in binding arbitration to resolve disputes as a condition of their coverage. Consumer advocates say that HMOs are more familiar with the arbitration process, which places patients at a disadvantage compared to lawsuits. HMO officials say arbitration effectively resolves disputes and contend that consumer advocates only oppose the arbitration system because it makes it difficult for trial lawyers to win large jury awards (California Healthline, 6/18). Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said the bill is needed because current law "forc[es] patients to sign away their right to go to court when they enroll in a health plan" (San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 6/20). He also criticized the committee members who abstained from the initial vote, saying, "Politicians must either live with the consequences of voting against HMO patients' interests or support patients, but they must take a stand" (Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights release, 6/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.