Democrats Criticize Davis, Zingale for Opposing Bills Backed by Physicians
Gov. Gray Davis (D) has drawn the ire of fellow Democrats in the Legislature by "joining" the managed care industry in opposing several bills favored by physicians, the Los Angeles Times reports. In recent days, with the state's legislative session nearing its end, the state Department of Managed Health Care, the agency responsible for overseeing managed care organizations, has "moved to block" bills that proponents say are needed to help patients and physicians. The department has said that the measures would "interfere with private contractual relationships" between doctors and health plans. Among these proposals are bills that would:
- Give physicians and others the right to sue insurers "in cases in which they allege that contracts governing care and reimbursement are unfair" (AB 1600);
- Increase doctors' compensation for treating HIV/AIDS patients, "intended to improve treatment for people with" the disease (AB 937);
- Require health plans to cover drug addiction and alcoholism treatments (SB 599);
- Require insurers to pay for "high-cost medications," such as HIV/AIDS and cancer drugs.
Democrats Sound Off
In a letter to DMHC Director Daniel Zingale, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) and Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) wrote that they were "furious over the flurry of opposition to reform measures pending in the Legislature," adding that Zingale "appears to be going out of his way to protect health plans at great costs to the public" (Morain, Los Angeles Times, 9/11). They wrote, "You have let us down. More importantly, you have let down the consumers you profess to care about. The recent actions by your department have made us question whether we should support its continued existence" (Salladay, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/11). And Steve Thompson, chief lobbyist for the California Medical Association, said, "We have been frustrated in trying to come to agreement on a number of bills where the administration seems to be representing the same position as the HMO industry." In an interview with the Times, Zingale said the department was opposed to the measures because they would "force" the agency to become "more deeply involved" in resolving disagreements between physicians and health plans, thereby hindering its ability to assist patients directly. Zingale said, "We don't want to get sucked into the managed care civil war. It will divert department staff who are working for patients." A conference committee composed of Senate and Assembly members was schedule to hold its first meeting on the measures yesterday.David Battles Doctors
The Times also reports that whether Davis can gain approval for his health care proposal, which he said would represent a "expansion of California's groundbreaking patients' bill of rights," remains "unclear." While the proposal "has some support," doctors are "bitterly opposed" to several provisions, including one that would require physicians to care for patients for up to 12 months after a health plan terminates its contract. Physicians who fail to comply with this measure would face jail time. The provision would allow physicians to "continue to be paid during that [12-month] time" and would also "add to the list of conditions under which health plans would be barred from disrupting existing doctor-patient relationships." Davis also faces opposition from the CMA, which last week filed a lawsuit to block the administration from implementing regulations requiring medical groups to disclose financial solvency information to the public (Los Angeles Times, 9/11).