HMO LIABILITY: Senate Committee Kills Bill
"In a surprise move" a state Senate committee yesterday killed a bill that would have given people in self-insured health plans the right to sue their HMOs, the Sacramento Bee reports. State Sen. Patrick Johnston (D-Stockton), chair of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, and two other Democrats joined the panel's Republicans to defeat AB 2436, sponsored by state Assemblywoman Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont). Johnston said his move was in reaction to a move earlier in the week by Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) to link the liability bill to a measure Johnston sponsored that would have created an independent appeals process. "The action meant that neither of the external review bills could be signed unless the governor signed" the HMO liability bill, the Bee reports. Johnson said, "There's an apparent strategy emanating from the speaker's office that is fixed on sending the governor an HMO reform bill that he will veto. I'm for accomplishing something rather than nothing, namely a bill to allow patients an independent review when HMOs refuse to pay for treatment, and a limited ability to sue for damages in the event of medical malpractice." He said that Figueroa's bill "went to far in favor of lawsuits and was doomed to die an ugly death on the governor's desk" (Vellinga, 8/20).
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "[w]ith Johnston presiding, his committee killed not only Figueroa's bill but several other measures opposed by HMOs," including a measure to mandate nurse-to-patient ratios" (Russell/Lucas, 8/20). As a result of yesterday's actions, the Bee reports that "the outlook now seems dismal for any meaningful health care legislation this year." Consumers for Quality Care's Jamie Court said, "If this were a chess game, we'd be stalemated at the moment" (8/20).