The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) applauded the announcement today by the American Arbitration Association that it will no longer force patients to choose between the right to trial and health coverage. The nation’s largest association of arbitrators claimed it will no longer conduct forced HMO arbitrations.
FTCR said this was an important ethical stand which California should adopt as law. FTCR has sponsored California Senate Bill 458 (Escutia), which makes HMO arbitration voluntary under the new HMO accountability act that took effect January 1, 2001. The bill has passed the Senate and awaits action in the Assembly. California is unique among HMO liability states in allowing HMOs to force patients into mandatory arbitration as a condition of health coverage.
“Patients should not have to give up their seventh amendment right to trial just to receive health coverage,” said Jamie Court, executive director of FTCR. “This announcement shows that arbitrators themselves find it unethical to force patients to resolve their problems with billion-dollar-HMOs in secret proceedings where they don’t have enough leverage and there is no public scrutiny. Political will now needs to converge with policy standards propounded by the leading legal ethicists.”
The American Arbitration Association , American Bar Association, and American Medical Association met in 1998 and came up with the Health Care Due Process Protocol, stating that “In disputes involving patients, binding forms of dispute resolution should be used only where the parties agree to do so after a dispute arises.” Until now, the protocol has not been implemented by the American Arbitration Association.
“Giving patients a choice between trial and arbitration does not end arbitration,” said Court. “It simply makes arbitration fairer because HMOs will have to compete to attract patients with a choice into the process by making it better.”
Joint hearings will be held tomorrow by the Assembly Health and Judiciary Committees in Sacramento on HMO arbitration.