The phrase ’California is where America’s future begins’ may strike fear into Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) across the country.
The phrase ’California is where America’s future begins’ may strike
fear into Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) across the
News that recent legislation passed by the California state legislature
will give residents the right to sue their healthcare providers will
undoubtedly affect the industry nationally.
With Capitol Hill preparing a so-called patients’ ’bill of rights’ and
the Supreme Court promising to determine when patients can sue their
healthcare provider, the fate of HMOs hangs ever more precariously in
An examination of the consequent media coverage of these events by CARMA
found that HMOs are not only firmly isolated, but also that many of the
possible implications of impending legislation are being largely ignored
in the broader debate.
As soon as the Californian legislation had been passed, the media were
quick to make clear as to where the blame lies. Standing in front of a
banner reading ’Putting Patients First,’ California Governor Gary Davis
announced, ’It’s time to make the health of the patient the bottom
We are today taking historic steps to cure what ails our managed care
system’ (Houston Chronicle, September 28). Recognizing the significance
of the legislation, Larry Leavitt from the Kaiser Family Foundation
added, ’As the birthplace of managed care and the biggest state in the
country, it’s a big deal when California acts because it instantly
becomes a bellwether for the nation’ (Los Angeles Times, September
The HMO response was virtually deafened by the opposition cries. The
Wall Street Journal was one of the few to present a more balanced debate
as seen in a report on September 30. ’The entrepreneurial trial
attorneys are barking up the wrong tree. They are going to hurt the
consumer, not help him, by crippling health plans’ efforts to improve
quality of care and keep insurance affordable,’ said Chip Kahn,
president of the Health Insurance Association of America.
In the ensuing media coverage, numerous comparisons were made to similar
legislation in Texas, despite the subtle but important differences
between the two. Furthermore, little media coverage examined the
implications that extra litigation might have for health costs or what
purpose it might serve. ’When the punishment is punitive, it is
difficult to see the public interest. If dollars 100 million goes to one
individual and lawyers, that money is coming out of the healthcare
system,’ explained Walter Zelman, president of the California
Association of Health Plans (San Francisco Chronicle, September 28).
By drawing attention to the fact that the same lawyers who tackled the
tobacco industry are also preparing their cases against the HMOs, the
media further demonized healthcare providers and hardened public opinion
against them. Despite that HMOs’ most fierce opponents privately agree
that legislative reforms will make a difference, the media have helped
introduce the right-to-sue law by keeping focus on the public’s negative
perception of HMOs. American patients could be spending less time with
their doctors and more time with their lawyers.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found