MANAGED CARE REFORM: State Senate Committee Passes HMO Guidelines Bill
The state Senate Insurance Committee unanimously approved a bill yesterday that would require the state to tell patients whether HMOs meet self-imposed deadlines for granting appointments and answering patient phone calls. The committee's approval came after lawmakers made significant changes to ensure HMO backing of the measure. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that legislators changed the bill to allow HMOs to set their own deadlines, rather than requiring them to adhere to standards set by the Legislature. In its original version, the legislation would have required HMOs "to answer patient calls within five minutes and to schedule a doctor's appointment within 10 days on a nonurgent matter and on the same day for an urgent complaint."
Assemblyman and bill sponsor Scott Wildman (D-Los Angeles) said the proposed law would "inform consumers in an area where they're nervous." Bruce Livingston, head of Health Access -- "a coalition that supports significant changes to managed care plans" -- said the amended version of the bill will "educate consumers." He said if the measure becomes law, Health Access will set up a Website that lists the deadlines of major health plans. Wildman said the managed care industry's decision to back the new version of his bill "should improve the chance that" Gov. Pete Wilson will back it. But a spokesperson for Wilson said "he was uncertain whether Wilson would sign the bill." The Union-Tribune reports that "Wilson has signaled that he will sign only business-friendly changes to managed care" (Ainsworth, 6/18).