Protecting Access to State Courts & Against Federalizing Damages / Venue Will Be Key To Conference Committee Deliberations
In a landmark vote today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by 275-151 bi-partisan legislation sponsored by Reps. John Dingell and Charlie Norwood that gives all patients the right to sue their HMO and insurers for damages in state court, removing a two-decade old federal bar to damage recovery created by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 or ERISA. Until the bill, which now moves to a joint Senate-House conference committee is enacted, 125 million Americans with employer-paid coverage cannot recover damages against HMOs that injure them.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), legislative sponsor of a California right-to-sue law signed on September 27th, touted today’s Congressional deliberation for protecting the right of patients to go to state court and stopping attempts to federalize damages and undue Californians’ gain under state legislation. FTCR also commended the bill for extending the right to recover damages to patients in federally-regulated self-funded ERISA plans, people who could not be helped by California’s state law.
“This is the first successful national battle of the patients’ rights revolution and offers the hope of being a Waterloo for profiteering HMOs that do not deliver quality health care,” said Jamie Court, FTCR’s advocacy director. “Bi-partisan forces fended off attempts to federalize liability and limit full damages. Patients’ rights to go before state juries must be safeguarded. Today’s gains of legal leverage for patients dealing with stonewalling HMOs must be protected in the join House-Senate conference committee where the industry will seek opportunities to preempt state tort laws with national damage caps and unresponsive federal court venues. The public won today but this is only the first battle in a war to guarantee patients nationwide the big stick of punitive damages that they need to negotiate with HMOs and the right to bring HMO wrongdoers before state juries. Tort deform must be kept out of HMO reform. This is the first time in modern history that so many conservative Republicans have embraced corporate liability and that is a testament to the populist energy behind this issue.”