HMO REFORM: Bill Would Exempt Physicians from Antitrust Laws
A bill that would give physicians "more room to maneuver" when dealing with powerful HMOs, SB 2007, was announced yesterday at a news conference, the Sacramento Bee reports. The sponsor of the Quality in Health Care Contracts Act, state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Daly City), explained that the measure would exempt California physicians in private practice from antitrust laws, allowing them to form groups and to negotiate "better fees" from managed care plans. The California Medical Association helped draft the bill. CMA President Dr. J.C. Pickett said, "[Managed care plans] tell us what they're going to give us and we have no choice but to accept if we want to do business." He added, "It's a take-it-or-leave-it situation." But the California Association of Health Plans called the legislation "anti-competitive, anti-consumer and downright un-American." Association President Walter Zelman said, "It's as if all the shoemakers got together and said, 'We're going to charge $20 to fix a heel and no one will take a penny less'" (Fisher, 3/1). He added, "Antitrust enforcers, both Republicans and Democrats, have consistently fought against creating this kind of ability for a group to collude. If passed, this bill would give physicians the right to form a cartel, which is a measure of power that no other group has" (California Association of Health Plans release, 2/29). Jamie Court, an "anti-HMO consumer activist," also suggested that the legislation might not be the best solution for providers. Court said that seeking "government regulation of capitation rates" might be preferable to the bill, as the government could ensure "fair and reasonable" rates while "preserving antitrust protections" (Sacramento Bee, 3/1).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.