Brother of Deceased Cancer Patient and Father of Ailing Baby
Bellevue, Washington –Family members of patients wrongfully denied treatment by their HMOs called on U.S. Senator Slade Gorton to change his vote and support bi-partisan, federal, patients’ rights legislation, at a morning press conferences in front of the Senator’s offices.
The U.S. Senate will vote again on the measure, which includes a right to sue for HMO patients, in the next two weeks and Gorton is the key swing vote. The bill failed by one vote this summer with Gorton voting against it. This Norwood-Dingell legislation has already passed the US House of Representatives with bipartisan support.
The reform bill would have allowed families of both patients to secure the medical treatment they were repeatedly denied. Mick Fleming, the brother of Rhonda Rae Fleming Bast, described his sister’s fight against Prudential Life Insurance and how the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the right to sue the company citing the federal ERISA law. His sister died after the HMO delayed a life-saving bone marrow transplant. As a government official Gorton is not subject to ERISA and not limited in his right to sue his HMO like the Bast family.
“Near the end, Rhonda realized no amount of money would give her back her life or allow her to see her son grow up,” said Fleming. “She asked me to do everything I could to prevent this tragedy from happening to anyone else without consequences. Senator Gorton can grant one of her last wishes.”
Dylan Malone, father of infant Ian, fought Aetna Insurance when it began terminating Ian’s in-home nursing care last December. The Malone’s family plan is covered under ERISA also. Aetna only restored Ian’s care after Vice President Al Gore shined the national media spotlight on Ian’s plight.
Consumer advocate Jamie Court, author of the book Making A Killing: HMOs and the Threat To Your Health (www.makingakillling.org), joined patients in delivering a waiver asking Gorton to relinquish his right to sue if Gorton is not willing to support the right for all patients. Court explained that ERISA only limits private sector employees’ rights to sue, not government employees, and Gorton’s vote change could send the HMO reforms to President Clinton.
“Senator Gorton must change his vote because a public servant should not have more remedies than the constituents he serves,” said Court, executive director of the Santa Monica, California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “Gorton must either set the patients’ bill of rights free or agree to submit to the same limits on his rights as patients with coverage from private employers.”
Barbara Barron Flye, executive director of Washington Citizen Action, asked Gorton to withdraw deceptive advertising by his campaign that claims he supports a patients’ bill of rights. She also noted that Gorton received $126,737 in campaign contributions from managed care interests, which accounted for more than any other sector of his contributors.
“Our democracy is based upon electing representatives that advocate on behalf of the people,” said Flye. “The amount of money Senator Gorton has taken from managed care companies and his subsequent vote against a strong patients bill of rights signals to the people of Washington that it is the money of the special interests he is listening to and not the people.”
HMOs argue that without their shield of immunity health care costs will skyrocket. The reality is that government employees and others not subject to ERISA do not pay higher premiums and are not litigious. In a study of 1 million public employees in California, people who can sue their managed care plans already, the Kaiser Family Foundation found the cost of lawsuits and settlements was minimal-no more than 13 cents per member per month. The Congressional Budget Office reported that giving all patients the right to sue would add up to only 1.2% to health care premiums, including costs of so-called defensive medicine.