California ahead of the game

Published on

The Orange County Register

For Californians, the patients’ bill of rights passed by the U.S. Senate on Friday is not groundbreaking so much as validating.

California patients have had the right to emergency- care access and medical specialists since a state patients’ bill of rights went into effect in January.

They have also had the ability to sue health maintenance organizations if harmed by denial of care.

The Senate bill would give the rest of the nation those rights and give new protections to Californians who were not covered under state law because of the way their employers paid for health insurance or because they are in federally regulated health plans.

Patient advocates said the national quest for protections shows how frustrated the public is with managed care.

This is the biggest populist uprising in 30 years,” said Jamie Court, head of Consumers for Quality Care, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group.

HMOs are going to have to deliver what they promise.”

Health maintenance organizations said the bill would clog the courts, drive up the cost of health care, increase the number of the nation’s uninsured and expose employers to costly and frivolous lawsuits.

Our concerns have never been with the basic patients’ rights pieces. Our concern has been with the liability and exposure that this would subject hospitals, employers and providers to,” said Janet Newport, vice president for public policy at Santa Ana-based PacifiCare.

The bill diverts dollars from health care. And it broadens the chances for frivolous lawsuits.”

But state officials said no lawsuits have been filed since Californians were given the right to sue their HMOs, and patient advocates suggested that giving consumers the right to recourse forces health maintenance organizations to act more cautiously.

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