Louisville, Ky — A consumer group wants U.S. Rep. Anne Northup to give patients the right to sue managed care companies or give up her right to do the same as a federal employee.
Jamie Court, executive director of the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, called on the Republican to change her vote on legislation that would allow patients to sue HMOs for punitive damages if they are wrongfully denied coverage.
Otherwise, Court said on Tuesday, Northrop should sign a waiver that surrenders her right to sue.
Federal employees like Northup are exempt from the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which precludes private sector employees from recovering damages in lawsuits against HMOs, Court said.
“Why should this industry receive a shield of immunity that credit card companies or car manufacturers don’t have?” Court said.
Court gave the waiver to staff members at Northup’s 3rd District office in Louisville on Tuesday following a press conference.
He said Northrop was chosen because she has accepted campaign contributions from Humana Inc., which is also based in Louisville.
Similar appeals will be made to Rep. Rick Lazio, R-New York and Sens Spencer Abraham, R-Minnesota, John Ashcroft, R-Missouri and Christopher Bond, R-Missouri, he said.
The issue is at the center of a compromise provision being worked out by Congress over a patient’s bill of rights.
Northup voted against a measure that cleared the House to allow patients to sue HMOs. The Senate passed a different bill and the two sides are currently working to hammer out the differences.
But Northup said she will not sign the waiver and does not support the measure.
“I think the question is not whether you have the right, the question is do we want that to be the only recourse so that we push the cost of health insurance so high?” Northup said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
Northup said she supports a patient’s right to sue managed care companies, but only as a last resort.
She voted in favor of a measure that created an external review procedure for claims disputes and allows patients to sue for denials that cause harm.
Court was joined in Louisville by Dr. Linda Peeno, a former medical reviewer for Humana, an expert witness in a $13.1 million lawsuit filed against the managed care company for refusing to pay a patient’s hysterectomy.
The woman, Karen Johnson, won a jury verdict in Jefferson Circuit Court in October 1998 – which at the time was one of the largest awards ever against an HMO – but later settled for more than $2 million during appeals.
Peeno said current federal regulations create “a Teflon bubble that allowed us to do anything with no consequences.”
Court said the waiver will be sent to all in the House who voted against the measure.