FLORIDA: Ombudsmen Panels Lack Funds, Authority
Two years after the Florida Legislature created ombudsman committees to resolve patients' grievances with HMOs, the committees "have not heard a single case" and "the state has given [them] no rules for taking action, no training, no money, no offices and no secretarial help," the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports. Broward County ombudsman committee chair Dr. Howard Neer resigned Monday in protest, and many committee members "wonder whether the state is trying to cripple [them] through inattention." Marilyn Evert, who supervises the committees for the state's Agency for Health Care Administration, blamed the initial delay on the lack of legislation protecting "the privacy of patients making the complaints." While that legislation passed in 1997, Evert attributed continued delays to the fact that the agency is "slowly crafting rules about the panels' powers, to reduce the chance HMOs can kill them in court." In the interim, the Statewide Provider and Subscriber Assistance Panel, comprised of state officials, continues to handle the 4,000 calls a month to the state's HMO hotline. Although ombudsman committee members will ask the Legislature for $1 million in funding and "the power to make binding decisions in HMO disputes," agency officials envision panel members serving only as "advocates to help consumers navigate HMO red tape." The Sun-Sentinel sums up the situation: "One of Florida's most-touted weapons to help consumers battle the bureaucracy of HMOs has itself become snarled and delayed by red tape" (LaMendola, 8/26).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.