Kaiser Permanente Sued Over Kidney Program
Two Kaiser Permanente patients and the widow of another patient filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the HMO after problems in its kidney transplant program recently were found, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Lawyers say the suit could be the first of many against Kaiser, but some say the cases might never go to trial because of a binding arbitration provision in Kaiser's health insurance contracts. Kaiser requires all members to agree to send disputes to three arbitrators outside the public court system. The hearings are private and decisions cannot be appealed.
Some lawyers previously have tried to file court claims against the HMO "with little success," the Times reports.
In the lawsuit, one plaintiff claims her husband died in 2005 after paperwork errors by Kaiser affected his chances of obtaining a kidney. Another plaintiff says she became progressively sicker as Kaiser repeatedly delayed her transplant without explanation.
The third plaintiff said the Kaiser doctor overseeing his care on three occasions recommended that he travel to the Philippines for a kidney transplant, rather than remain on the Kaiser waiting list. The plaintiff said the doctor also gave him a phone number to obtain a transplant abroad -- a charge the doctor denies.
Kaiser spokesperson Matthew Schiffgens on Thursday declined to comment on the lawsuit because he said the company had not reviewed it (Ornstein/Weber, Los Angeles Times, 5/12).
Although it is "important to allow doctors and hospitals to innovate and experiment with medical procedures such as transplants, ... the current arrangement needs more oversight, and" HHS "could provide it," according to a Los Angeles Times editorial. The editorial states that "too much oversight can be stifling," but "it's clear that more checks and balances are needed" (Los Angeles Times, 5/12).
KQED's "The California Report" on Thursday reported on the Kaiser Permanente transplant program. The segment includes comments from Department of Managed Care Director Cindy Ehnes and a transplant patient who has been on Kaiser's waiting list for several years (Martin, "California Report," KQED, 5/11).
The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.