Public Disclosure Would Strengthen HMO Arbitration Credibility, Los Angeles Times Says
Although California's Supreme Court ruled last month that medical records involved in lawsuits should be disclosed if doing so would benefit public health, a Los Angeles Times editorial says that the "sensible rule" does not "formally apply" to 18 million managed care enrollees "whose health plans require them to settle their disputes through private arbitration rather than public lawsuits." Noting that such "secrecy" benefits only HMOs, the editorial suggests that Daniel Zingale, director of the state Department of Managed Health Care, "should do his best to comply with a consumer petition filed last week asking him to require health plans to publicly disclose such documents." While state legislators may need to pass a bill granting Zingale that authority and disclosure rules would be needed to protect patient privacy, the editorial maintains that such "obstacles ... should not be allowed to keep arbitration information from regulators, who could use it to help ensure overall quality of care, and from HMO patients, who might use it to challenge managed care more assertively." Although arbitration is a "generally cost-effective alternative" to lawsuits, the editorial says it can be "unfairly biased" towards health plans. The editorial concludes, "Contrary to HMOs' fears, greater public disclosure of arbitration could help HMOs and state regulators remedy such unfairness and thereby strengthen, not weaken, arbitration's credibility" (Los Angeles Times, 2/23).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.