PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: L.A. Times Says California Legislators Are A Step Ahead
Patients' rights is "the No. 1 crusade in Washington, propelled by voters angry with their powerlessness at the hands of HMOs," an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times states. But California legislators are "well ahead of the national curve" with several bills pending in the state Legislature that "define the nature of the [patient] appeals process." The Times points to one bill (AB 2639) "deserving passage, authored by Assembly members Don Perata (D-Alameda) and Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento)," that requires HMOs to disclose their criteria for authorizing or denying treatments. State legislators are presently combining several external appeals bills into a single bill "that can be sent to Gov. Pete Wilson."
Follow California's Lead
Congress should follow California's lead and merge its myriad HMO reform proposals into one bill to ensure prompt action, the Times says. The editorial points out that "fractious debate" over patients' rights is "inevitable" since most Democrats support right-to-sue language while many Republicans "want to duck" the issue. In order to be effective, Congress must carefully phrase its liability legislation, removing the "liability loophole" so health care dollars are not "sucked into the pockets of trial lawyers." While a new Kaiser Family Foundation study has estimated that liability reform would raise premiums, the Times says that "business leaders correctly point out that medical malpractice jury awards are rising and ... doctors tend to practice costly defensive medicine ... to protect against malpractice charges." The editorial states that the "lack of agreement on what liability reform will cost and its poor political prospects underscore the need for an interim solution," guaranteeing Americans a prompt appeals process. The piece concludes: "Establishing a credible appeals process is a fundamental reform. Consumers ... are waiting to see what comes from Washington and Sacramento. They won't put up with half measures" (7/20).