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AMA corrects Wall Street Journal misrepresentations

November 1, 2000

In a letter sent today to the Wall Street Journal, the AMA corrected the Journal's inaccuracies in a recent (Oct. 31) editorial and made clear its support for a real patients' bill of rights.

To the Editor:

Readers of your surprisingly uninformed editorial on patients’ rights (Oct. 31) might at first suspect a Halloween trick because of the Journal’s many misstatements masquerading as fact. They would never know, for example, that more than 18 million Americans have suffered from health care delayed or denied by managed care since the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan patients’ bill of rights more than a year ago.

Nor would they know that patients cannot hold HMOs accountable for actions that injure or kill so long as the outdated ERISA law grants health plans unusual, unique and unfair immunity from liability.

To correct this inequity, the AMA believes that medical treatment disputes should best be resolved by an independent external review appeals process that is free from HMO meddling. Legislation that passed the House allows health plans to require completion of the independent review before any lawsuit is heard in court. And a review panel decision favorable to an HMO can be used as an affirmative defense – a strong deterrent to frivolous lawsuits.

Your editorial is flat out wrong in stating that the AMA has rejected any cap on damages. We have not. The real issue is to deal with a cap in a way that a majority of the Senate will support and President Clinton will sign into law.

What we do reject are Johnny-come-lately schemes like those of Reps. Shadegg and Coburn to preempt state laws and the growing body of case law that says health plans can indeed be held liable for medical treatment decisions that harm patients. Rep. Shadegg also proposed that non-physicians could serve as primary care gatekeepers and sit on the external review panels that will decide if the HMOs medical treatment decisions are appropriate.

Both presidential candidates have endorsed a strong patients’ bill of rights. Gov. Bush knows what he’s talking about – despite alarmist tactics by the insurance industry, the sky did not fall on Texas when patients’ rights became law there three years ago.

D. Ted Lewers, MD
AMA board chair

Last updated: Nov 01, 2000

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