CASH-ON-DEMAND EPIDURALS: Legislature Moves To Ban Denial Of Pain Relief
A measure that would prohibit "doctors from withholding pain relief from women in labor, and declare it unethical to deny or threaten to deny pain relief to any patient based on the patient's financial resources," received final approval from the state Legislature yesterday. The state Senate passed AB 1397 and sent it to Gov. Pete Wilson, who "has not yet taken a position on the legislation." State Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park) sponsored the measure after reports that anesthesiologists at Northridge Hospital in Los Angeles County denied poor women in labor epidural anesthesia unless they paid cash upfront. The state Assembly accepted the measure earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times reports. If Wilson does sign the measure into law, the Medical Board of California will be able to discipline doctors for "unprofessional conduct" if they "deny pain management based on a patient's ability to pay." In addition, the measure would make it illegal for county hospitals to "have differing standards of care among obstetrical patients based upon their insurance carrier or ability to pay."
The Times reports that Jean Olander, Los Angeles County's health facilities manager, said yesterday that four area hospitals denied epidurals to women who could not pay for them. In addition to Northridge, the hospitals were Queen of Angels/Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, Whittier Hospital Medical Center and Providence Holy Cross Hospital. "A fifth hospital, San Dimas Community Hospital, is still under investigation," according to Olander. The Times reports that all the hospitals have reportedly ended the practice (Bernstein, 8/29).