HMO REFORM: Sacramento Bee Says Democrats Are The ‘Obstacle To Real And Sensible Progress’
A Sacramento Bee editorial weighs in on the ongoing struggle between the Democratic Legislature and Gov. Pete Wilson over the issue of HMO reform. The editorial criticizes Democrats for "[t]heir refusal to compromise with" Wilson on the issue of transferring HMO oversight "where it belongs -- a department that would concentrate all its energies and expertise on improving health care for millions of HMO members." Insisting that a new HMO agency answer to a five-member board appointed by the governor and the Legislature is "a deal killer for Wilson," the editorial notes, adding that "[s]uch boards dilute public accountability and blur the separation of powers between the branches of government." The Bee also criticizes Democrats' position on legislation "to send disputes over HMO treatment denials to independent experts." Democrats insist that this legislation should include a provision allowing consumers to sue their health plans, a condition that Wilson will not accept. According to the editorial, Democrats "are the obstacle to real and sensible progress in regulating health plans. They must decide, and soon, whether they want to stand with consumers and citizens, or whether they will stand for bolstering their own prerogatives and filling the pockets of trial lawyers" (8/20).
Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters writes that the HMO reform "battle has taken on overtones of a feud between the Legislature's two houses, both controlled by Democrats, as well as a classic special interest duel." After an Assembly committee "linked external review to liability by altering" state Senate legislation, "the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected HMO liability legislation that had originated in the Assembly." Walters contends that this tit-for-tat legislating, with lobbyists largely calling the shots on both sides, has left "no one [with] clean hands in this affair." He says HMO-bashing Democrats are "just as guilty of pandering to well-heeled special interests -- such as trial lawyers -- as are" other lawmakers from both parties backed by the "HMO and insurance industries." In the end, Walters says of Democrats' efforts to push their own versions of HMO reform: "The only reasons to push so hard for bills certain to be vetoed would be to attempt to embarrass Republicans or to garner trial lawyer campaign funds -- neither motive, of course, having anything to do with patients' welfare" (8/20).