Federal Patients’ Rights Bill May Have No ‘Radical Effect’ for California Residents
California's patients' rights law -- "already ... the toughest ... in the country" -- "definitely ha[s] the edge" over the federal Kennedy-McCain-Edwards patients' rights bill (S 283) being debated in the Senate, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Under a state law enacted Jan. 1, most California residents can sue health plans. Although California's patients' rights law sets no limits on punitive or compensatory damages, no state residents have "taken advantage of the right to sue an HMO, fueling supporters' contention that national legislation would not set loose a flood of lawsuits." The Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill's $5 million cap on punitive damages in federal court "does not appear to supersede patients' rights" to sue for "unlimited damages" in state court over denials of benefits or quality of care issues, the Chronicle reports. Helen Schauffler, professor of health and public policy at the University of California-Berkeley's School of Public Health, said that the congressional debate "is too focused on the right to sue." She said, "The right to sue, at least in California, is viewed as the mechanism of last resort. The right to sue is more of a symbolic gesture so people know if all else fails, they have the courts to protect them" (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/24).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.