San Francisco Chronicle Endorses Bill Limiting Mandatory Arbitration System
A Senate-passed bill that would end the practice of mandatory arbitration by health plans in certain cases is needed to "level the field" between "highly organized" insurers, which "set rules for handling complaints, and patients, who have no leverage with arbitrators beholden to the HMOs," a San Francisco Chronicle editorial states. The bill (SB 458), sponsored by Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier) and scheduled to be discussed by the Assembly Health Committee Tuesday, would allow patients to file lawsuits charging health plan with "caus[ing] substantial harm by denying doctor-recommended treatment." The measure would allow patients to voluntarily enter arbitration. The editorial says that currently, most managed care members are "required to submit disagreements to HMO-dominated arbitration procedures, rather than seek redress by lawsuit." Such a system "contradicts the intent of California's 1999 patients' bill of rights to make HMOs legally accountable for providing essential care," the editorial says. The Chronicle notes that the American Arbitration Association announced earlier this year that it would no longer participate in mandatory arbitration cases because of the "poor ... record" of such cases that involve health care disputes. In addition, proponents of the bill say a similar law approved in Texas in 1997 has led to only six lawsuits and "made HMOs readier to approve necessary medical care." The Chronicle concludes, "The Assembly committee should approve the bill in the interest of the state's health care consumers and send the clearly justified measure on to the governor" (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/14).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.