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NEWS RELEASE
Feb 09, 1999


CONTACT: Jamie Court - 310-392-0522 x327

Aetna Misled Congress About Facts Of Goodrich Case; Investigations, Withdrawal of Federal Contracts Called For

Board Of Aetna Also Asked To Fire C.E.O. Huber Over Remarks
Consumers For Quality Care, the national health care watchdog group, today called upon Congress to convene hearings and suspend Aetna's government contracts over the HMO's attempts to mislead Congress about the facts of the landmark Goodrich vs. Aetna case in order to prevent HMO reform.

Aetna recently sent a statement to Congress distorting the facts of the case, in which a San Bernardino jury issued a $120 million rebuke of the HMO's conduct toward District Attorney David Goodrich. Goodrich died of stomach cancer after a two and one half year ordeal trying to get Aetna to approve cancer treatment recommended by his Aetna doctors.

In a letter to members of the United States House of Representatives and Senate today, Consumers For Quality Care urged action against Aetna because "Aetna's conduct… shows a contempt both for the Court, the American justice system and for Congress." A point-by-point refutation of Aetna's statement to Congress about the case, based on the court record, was also released. (Available upon request)

"We intend to make a federal case out of Aetna's misrepresentations and remorseless defiance of the civil jury and their authority," said Jamie Court, director of Consumers For Quality Care, a health care project of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "It should be federal case when the nation's largest HMO misleads Congress and thumbs its nose at the civil justice system. Aetna's defiance of civil society's dictates should bolster the case for giving to all patients the right to sue that Mrs. Goodrich has."

The Goodrich case exposed the disparity in federal law between government workers, like the Goodrich family, who can sue their HMO, and private sector workers, who are prevented from suing for damages unless Congress changes the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA.

Huber Should Be Fired

Consumers For Quality Care also wrote Aetna's Board of Directors asking it to fire Chief Executive Officer Richard Huber over his remarks attacking Goodrich's widow.

Huber responded in the Hartford Courant to the verdict: "This is a travesty of justice. You had a skillful ambulance-chasing lawyer, a politically motivated judge and a weeping window." Later, a Los Angeles Times columnist reported, "he [Huber] expanded his complaints, telling me that juries are customarily not intelligent enough to consider complicated contractual issues and that this one in particular was too ill-informed, as a result of the judge's evidentiary rulings, to render a sound verdict."

"We have been astounded at your Chief Executive Officer's lack of remorse over the handling of David Goodrich's care and ask you to act immediately to remove him," wrote Court. "If Aetna is dedicated to making things better for patients, Mr. Huber does not belong as your C.E.O. The true travesty of justice would be if Mr. Huber remains at the helm of Aetna and company policy continues to be indifference to its dying patients and to juries that condemn such policies."

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a tax-exempt, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing and protecting the interests of consumers and taxpayers.

Both letters follow:

_____________
Letter: True Travesty of Justice

Dear Members of the Board Of Directors:

The origin of change is regret. We have been astounded at your Chief Executive Officer's lack of remorse over the handling of David Goodrich's care and ask you to act immediately to remove him.

As you may know, Goodrich, a district attorney who risked his life by prosecuting gang violence, died of stomach cancer after a two and one half year ordeal trying to get Aetna to approve cancer treatment recommended by his Aetna doctors. A San Bernardino County jury issued a $120 million rebuke of your company's handling of Goordich's treatment.

Unfortunately, your C.E.O., Richard Huber, responded to the verdict without remorse: "This is a travesty of justice. You had a skillful ambulance-chasing lawyer, a politically motivated judge and a weeping window." (The Hartford Courant, January 22, 1999)

Does Mr. Huber really deny the right of a widow to weep for her husband?

Later, a Los Angeles Times columnist reported, "he [Huber] expanded his complaints, telling me that juries are customarily not intelligent enough to consider complicated contractual issues and that this one in particular was too ill-informed, as a result of the judge's evidentiary rulings, to render a sound verdict." (Kenneth Reich, "Verdict Against Aetna Is An Omen Of Clash Over HMOs," Los Angeles Times, Thursday January 28, 1999, p.B5.)

Is Aetna really this contemptful of the civil justice system and its ethic of responsibility, or are these Mr. Huber's own views?

We had hoped that $116 million in punitive damages might be enough to cause Aetna to reconsider how it deals with patients like David Goodrich. The message from the jury was that Aetna must do better. But Mr. Huber's remarks suggests that in the future Aetna's patients will get no better treatment at Aetna than David did.

The Goodrich jury felt that Aetna did not respond quickly when a patient's life hung in the balance and that Aetna ignored its own doctors' recommendations for Mr. Goodrich's care. In one instance, it took Aetna four months to approve high-dose chemotherapy and Goodrich could no longer benefit. Company and industry standards claim a 24 to 48 hour turn-around time.

Is this the appropriate standard of care at Aetna?

When it was clear Mr. Goodrich could wait no longer, Goodrich's doctors ultimately acted without approval. The public servant died believing he had left his wife with $750,000 in medical bills. While Aetna claimed, in a letter to Congress, that the treatment was paid for by "another insurance company," in fact the taxpayers picked up the bill. Mrs. Goodrich was a Yucaipa school teacher and the school district paid $500,000 of David's bills, only under the threat of litigation and with the understanding the cost would be repaid out of any Aetna verdict.

If Aetna is dedicated to making things better for its patients, Mr. Huber does not belong as your C.E.O. The true travesty of justice would be if Mr. Huber remains at the helm of Aetna and company policy continues to be indifference to its dying patients and to juries that condemn such policies.

We urge you to remove Mr. Huber as a signal that pro-patient reforms at Aetna will be forthcoming and that no other family will have to endure what the Goodrich family has.

Sincerely,

Jamie Court

_____________
Letter: Aetna Has Misled Congress

Dear Member of Congress:

Attempting to stymie HMO reform, Aetna, the nation's largest HMO, has misled you in a recent communiqué defending its treatment of cancer patient David Goodrich. The San Bernardino County district attorney died after a two and one half year ordeal trying to get Aetna to approve cancer treatment recommended by his Aetna doctors. Goodrich died believing he had left his wife with $750,000 in medical bills. A San Bernardino County jury awarded $120 million in the case-- including $116 million in punitive damages for malice and oppression -- to the widow.

Attached is a detailed refutation, based on court records, of Aetna's false and misleading statements to you. We urge you to immediately convene hearings regarding Aetna's conduct in this matter, which shows a clear contempt both for the Court, the American justice system and for Congress.

As you know, 125 million Americans with private sector, employer-paid health care cannot sue their HMOs for damages due to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 or ERISA. Aetna's remorseless conduct bolsters the case for reforming ERISA and allowing all patients the same right to sue that government workers, like the Goodrich family, now have. Aetna has yet to accept the message that the Goodrich jury sent -- that it must respond more quickly to its patients and defer to its doctors' recommendations. Civil remedies for all patients are clearly needed to force Aetna to behave more responsibly.

In his remarks in the Hartford Courant, Aetna's C.E.O. Richard Huber responded to the verdict: "This is a travesty of justice. You had a skillful ambulance-chasing lawyer, a politically motivated judge and a weeping window." In fact, the judge was a former insurance defense attorney. Aetna's own lawyers' questioning caused Mrs. Goodrich to cry on the stand. The family's attorney was also a long-time friend of Mr. Goodrich who only took the case at the behest of the head San Bernardino District Attorney, who himself could not compel Aetna to pay for Goodrich's treatment.

Later, a Los Angeles Times columnist reported, "he [Huber]expanded his complaints, telling me that juries are customarily not intelligent enough to consider complicated contractual issues and that this one in particular was too ill-informed, as a result of the judge's evidentiary rulings, to render a sound verdict."

Aetna's lack of remorse and the unwillingness to accept responsibility in this case is a symptom of the company's larger defiance of civil society's mandates. Such a company should not be entitled to federal contracts. We urge you to investigate Aetna's handling of this matter and are ready to assist.

Sincerely,

Jamie Court

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