Senate OKs bill banning mandatory arbitration of substantial harm cases
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home / healthcare / in the media

Associated Press
May 29, 2001

Senate OKs bill banning mandatory arbitration of substantial harm cases

Legislation bolstering a patients' right-to-sue law was narrowly approved by the state Senate on Tuesday despite opposition from business and medical lobbies.

The law, enacted in 1999, gives patients the right to sue their health care plans when they allegedly suffer substantial harm in treatment. But that statute doesn't specify if the issues raised in the lawsuit should be resolved by arbitration or by a court.

According to a state report, 80 percent of Californians enrolled in a health care plan are required by the plans to use binding arbitration to resolve disputes with their health care providers.

A bill by Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Commerce, would bar mandatory arbitration in those substantial harm cases.

"The decision your arbitrator reaches cannot be appealed to any court," said one of the bill's supporters, Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica. "If the health care plan is paying the entire cost of arbitration think about what that means for fairness."

Escutia noted that patients could only take cases to court after going through an internal grievance process. "It's a narrowly tailored bill," she said.

But Sen. Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles, said courts are not always "right and fair."

"We have an (arbitration) model that is working, that is providing awards for damages when they do occur. This measure will eliminate that opportunity. It's a step in the wrong direction."

The bill was sent to the Assembly by a 21-14 vote, the bare majority needed to pass the 40-seat Senate. It is supported by a number of consumer, senior citizen and labor groups. Opponents include groups representing businesses, doctors and hospitals.

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