Gov’t Employees Not Limited Like Private Sector Employees On HMO Lawsuits: Abraham Asked To Support Right To Sue For All In Sept. Vote Or Waive Own Right
Detroit, Michigan — Rich Gamber of the Michigan Consumer Federation and consumer advocate Jamie Court called upon U.S. Senator Spencer Abraham to either vote for the HMO patient’s right to sue this September or sign a waiver of his own right to file a claim against an HMO. As a government employee, Abraham is not limited in his right to sue an HMO like patients with private sector employer-paid coverage.
The patients’ rights legislation failed by one vote in the Senate earlier this year with Abraham voting against it. Another senate vote is slated for September. Abraham’s “aye” vote now could send the bill to President Clinton’s desk. (The Norwood-Dingell bi-partisan reform act, jointly sponsored by Michigan Congressman John Dingell, already passed the House of Representatives.)
Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, pointed out that the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA, which precludes 125 million private sector employees from recovering damages, does not apply to government employees like Abraham. Michigan’s other U.S. Senator, Carl Levin, supported the patients’ rights legislation.
“Senator Abraham’s vote will determine whether 125 million American patients will continue to face cruel HMO denials and delays in the name of money, not medicine,” said Jamie Court, co-author of Making A Killing: HMOs and the Threat To Your Health (Common Courage Press, 1999). “Yet Mr. Abraham has not been stripped of the legal remedies against an HMO that he has already voted once to deny to his constituents. If Senator Abraham is unwilling to change his vote, he should be willing to subject himself to the same limited remedies as his constituents. Anything less would be hypocritical. All patients need the same big stick of a lawsuit to threaten their HMOs as some government workers have today.”
After a press conference in front of Abraham’s office, Court and Gamber delivered an official waiver to Abraham for his signature.
“I recognize that it is unfair for me as a public servant to have greater remedies against an HMO than my constituents,” the waiver reads. “I pledge to support the federal, bi-partisan HMO patients’ bill of rights (known as the Norwood-Dingell legislation) when it comes before me for a vote or I will waive my own legal remedies as a government worker against my HMO or health insurer. I voluntarily subject myself to the limits of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA in any lawsuit I may try to file on behalf of myself or my family against an HMO or insurer, although ERISA does not cover government employees.”
The consumer advocates were joined by Laura Rolando, an HMO victim who would have been helped by the federal patient’s bill of rights that the senator voted against in the past. The Michigan woman, who suffers from epilepsy, discussed how she was repeatedly denied coverage for services by her HMO, both for drugs and a second time when the company refused to pay for emergency room care without pre-authorization even though it was an emergency and she was in epileptic shock.
The Foundation For Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a non-profit, non-partisan consumer watchdog group based in Santa Monica, CA. (www.consumerwatchdog.org) Making A Killing can be found on the Internet at http://www.makingakilling.org.