HMO REFORM: Assembly Democrats Add Liability Provision To Major Bills
In "an all-or-nothing" move, Assembly Democrats are attaching HMO liability provisions to the major HMO reform bills pending in the state Legislature. The Los Angeles Times reports that the "move could sink HMO reform in California this year or alter it dramatically." State Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park), whose AB 1557 was amended, said that "liability is the true deterrent to abuse by health plans, and everything else can only function if health plans know there is the ultimate deterrent of the consumer having the option of taking them to court." The Times reports that only one bill -- AB 1667 by state Assembly members Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) and Carole Midgen (D-San Francisco) -- "survives without the liability provisions." But even this measure, according to several Democrats, should be "altered ... or withdrawn" by this week. Gallegos said, "If we can't get the types of consumer protection that patients deserve, then we ought not give them a system that can still be controlled by health plans and gives consumers nothing."
Trick Or Treat?
The Times notes that Gov. Pete Wilson has vowed to veto any legislation that contains the liability provision. "I am not against imposing civil liability on HMOs and even introduced that this year, but I am convinced the governor will veto both if they are linked," said Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-San Fernando Valley). Wilson spokesperson Ron Low emphasized that the governor would indeed veto such legislation because of the administration's belief that "making HMOs liable for compensatory and punitive damages would aid lawyers not consumers." Low called linking the bills "a Christmas tree for trial lawyers [that] is unacceptable to us." Baugh agreed, saying, "It is all about politics and money. It is not about helping consumers" (Warren, 8/15).