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April 14, 2000

TALLAHASSEE — After the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved CS/SB 1900, the HMO civil remedy bill, by Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Jacksonville), Jon L. Shebel, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) promised that the business community would continue its fight against this bill that threatens access to health insurance for Florida's working families and their employees.

CS/SB 1900 is supported by the state's trial lawyers because it would give HMO subscribers the ability to sue their health plans over disagreements about treatment and coverage decisions.

"We don't want sick people to have to wait through the years it takes to resolve a lawsuit to get the care they need," said Shebel. "There are better, faster, less-expensive ways to resolve these matters and to get treatment for people who need it. Unfortunately, the trial bar can only make money by suing people, so they're supporting this bill."

According to a poll conducted by AIF last month, most Floridians agree. When asked which was the best way to resolve disagreements about medical care decisions made by health plans, 59 percent of the respondents favored a quick, independent review mechanism while 29 percent chose lawsuits. Among HMO participants, the numbers were 64 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

At the beginning of the committee meeting, Sen. Brown-Waite introduced a strike-everything amendment, which would have made the bill a subscribers' bill of rights but would not have included the right to sue. Sen. Skip Campbell (D-Tamarac), a trial lawyer, filed a handwritten amendment that reinserted the HMO civil remedy provision.

AIF and representatives of the managed care industry presented testimony about the affect that the right to sue would have on the ability of Floridians to keep their insurance. In the end, however, the committee voted to adopt Campbell's amendment.

Again, opinions of Floridians appear to parallel those of AIF and the industry; 60 percent of all of the poll's respondents, and 66 percent of HMO respondents, agreed that, "Opening up HMOs to punitive damage lawsuits will have a chilling cost effect on businesses and many may decide not to provide health insurance to employees because they will not be able to afford it." Thirty-two percent of all respondents, and 30 percent of HMO respondents, disagreed. Also, when asked their opinion of the statement, "HMOs ought to be sued because they provide terrible care and the threat of lawsuits is the only way to make them shape up," 53 percent of all respondents disagreed and 38 percent agreed; among HMO respondents, 60 percent disagreed and 33 percent agreed.

Sen. Brown-Waite did get an amendment inserted in the bill that she hoped would offset the right to sue. The subscriber responsibilities outlined in the new language, however, do not provide any protection for HMOs if they are sued. In addition, the bill does not contain any caps on damages and actually excludes HMOs from the punitive damage caps passed by the 1999 Legislature, making the bill a reversal on last year's attempts to limit wasteful litigation.

"We appreciate Sen. Brown-Waite's effort to make this bill more palatable to the business community," said Shebel, "but we must still strongly oppose it. It is nothing more than another make-the-lawyers-rich-scheme wrapped up in concern-for-consumers clothing."