Hidden Clause in Enrollment Contract Means Arbitration For Woman Suffering From Chronic Pain Disease

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"I thought my HMO nightmare was over when I finally fought my way out of this evil system. Mandatory binding arbitration, however, has turned out to be a brand new chapter in my HMO’s book of abuses."

Patient’s Medical History: "My story began nearly 18 years ago when I was a 21 year-old ballerina with a very bright future. I developed a chronic pain disease called reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) and for the first thirteen years of my illness, my HMO doctors told me my problems were all in my head while the disease progressed throughout my entire body, eventually leaving me bedridden with chronic, intractable pain."

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA– "I had never heard of mandatory binding arbitration or what its limitations were until I sought out a lawyer for my suit against my HMO. To my absolute dismay, I discovered my parents, unbeknownst to them, had signed away my right to a jury when I was three years old. Even when I signed over my Medi-Cal benefit to pay for my HMO premiums in 1990, the mandatory arbitration clause was never disclosed to me, let alone the ramifications of such an unfair and corrupt legal system.

I filed my claim in December of 1996 and it took my HMO nearly two and a half years to schedule my first deposition. When that meeting had to be cancelled, it took my HMO an additional five months to reschedule. I have to laugh when the HMO industry trots out mandatory arbitration as a "quick and easy" alternate to civil court.

At my first deposition, I was submitted to a laundry list of abuses. My testimony was recorded on camera (a highly unusual procedure) to intimidate me. The room was ice cold, which only exacerbated my chronic pain condition. A pre-arranged couch to make the hours of testimony bearable was not provided and my attention was constantly distracted by a busy city panorama. Worst of all, the HMO lawyer applied pressure to remove my husband (and caregiver) from the room, suggesting he would later mimic my testimony. All of this harassment happened because of the lack of accountability and oversight afforded a closed-door arbitration system.

The giant HMO industry will go to any and all lengths, including paying millions of dollars to lobbyists, to protect their system. Is it because it is fair and efficient? Absolutely not. They do it because it’s a perfect instrument to intimidate plaintiffs, preserve profits and keep business as usual. And if arbitration is such a great system for dispute resolutions as the HMOs would like us to believe, why not simply give consumers the choice to go to civil court? Because mandatory binding arbitration is far from great – it’s biased, expensive and controlled by those it serves best.

Years ago, I believed justice was blind and truth prevailed. As a victim of mandatory binding arbitration, I have learned that HMO justice is anything but blind; as it keeps all eyes on the bottom line.

While I’ve barely escaped my HMO with my life, my chance for a cure is now long gone and I live every moment disabled, disfigured and in pain. My HMO’s final abuse is to strip away my Constitutional right to a jury of my peers. They destroyed my life and now my claim will be decided behind closed doors by a panel of retired judges whose incomes are dependant on this system. I will never EVER have a chance for justice."

— Cynthia Toussaint reports her own story.

FTCR will continue to fax daily a story of HMO Arbitration Abuse to educate the public on the need for reform. AB 1751 (Kuehl) makes HMO binding arbitration voluntary rather than mandatory.

Consumer Watchdog
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