The Foundation For Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) today condemned suggestions by a state senator that California’s 24 hour consumer complaint hot line be eliminated and that fines against HMOs should not be tied to the company’s size. Cutting back the hotline hours to normal business hours would eliminate access for patients in emergencies.
State Senator Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) suggested yesterday at Senate Insurance Committee oversight hearings for the Department of Managed Healthcare that the state should move resources from the consumer hot line in order to save money. She also raised questions about whether size should matter in determining the amount of a fine against an HMO. Speier did not make clear her motivation. However, the odd statements seems to reflect a lack of understanding of the importance of the 24 hour coverage for patients in emergency situations who have been able to rely on the state’s hot line when their HMO stonewalled. FTCR noted that Speier was one of the few Democrats in the legislature who did not support a bill extending the HMO patient’s right to sue (Senate Bill 21, effective January 1, 2001)
“A state senator who refused to support a patients’ private right of action should not suggest scaling back the state’s regulatory presence that is the only other protection for patients with critical needs besides the courts,” said Jamie Court, executive director of FTCR. “Medical emergencies don’t happen 9 to 5, but 24/7, and the state hotline is a lifeline for these patients. Moreover, size must matter when it comes to fining an HMO, because a multi-billion dollar company will be far more callous toward a patient in need of life saving care if they face only a small penalty that is more appropriate for a smaller HMO. It is a mystery why a senator who is typically supportive of consumer rights would call into question a well established principle of jurisprudence, that the size and wealth of an enterprise is integral to their penalty for wrongdoing.”