Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Unitedhealth loses Hawaii court appeal

From Rafael del Castillo:

Something happened on Monday to underscore just how bad SB 1274 really is.

On September 30, 2010, the Panel in Metsch v. Evercare filed its decision. It was one of the few decisions where we knew the Panel got it wrong on the law, so we appealed to the Circuit Court. It was quite simple, really. The Panel rejected the opinion Evercare submitted by an adult epileptologist whose generic report had little to do with our child-petitioner (whom he had never seen and would not have accepted as a patient), and accepted our 2 experts’ opinions. It then turned around and decided against those opinions without grounds for doing so.

Monday, the Hon. Karl K. Sakamoto held at the conclusion of oral argument (the one I returned from DC for a couple of weeks ago, darn it, but was continued to yesterday because Evercare’s attorney could not make it), that it was correct for the Panel to base its decision on our experts, but it could not logically do so and then go against their opinions. He VACATED the September 30 decision and REMANDED for a new hearing.

He could have reversed, but has given Evercare another bite at the apple. There followed the most incredible scene I have seen in all my years of practice: Evercare’s attorney proceeded to lecture the Judge for about 3 minutes on how he was going to be reversed on appeal. Based upon its actions the past few weeks, it is clear Evercare is banking that it has SB1274 in the bag—reversing prior denials so that it won’t be stuck with an order from a panel—and thus it can do as it pleases, including reading the riot act to a judge.

This is the same company that expanded its Medicaid enrollment last year by 5% and its Medicaid revenues by 23% (how does that work??). At least our 80%+ stats are even better now, but that is not the important thing.

The importance of the Metsch case is this: panels occasionally make mistakes in applying our medical necessity criteria. It takes a lot of care and attention to detail, which, despite having a lawyer chair the panel, does not always get properly done. We have even had a couple of cases where the lawyer chairing the panel dissented in a majority opinion. One is on appeal. In the previous one, the court reversed the panel.

Under SB1274, these decisions, which often involve life-and-death matters, will be turned over to some doctor, most likely in another state, and they will be expected to apply Hawaii law properly every time. Right. Sheer genius.

The Insurance Commissioner says there will be an appeal from the IRO decision. He is wrong. With all due respect, the Ins. Commr. is not a litigator. He does not have to explain to a judge that just because the law says the IRO decision is “binding” there is still a right of appeal. I have to do that, so I know just how small the chances are of getting the circuit court and appellate courts to agree with me. I reviewed Hawaii statutes, looking at every one that says a decision is “binding.” If there is an exception for appeals, the law always expressly says so. Why? Because that is the law.

You see, there is no right of appeal from any agency decision unless the court can find an expression of legislative intent that there be an appeal. The doors of the court are only open if the legislature has said so. Besides, who are you going to find to take your appeal? You will have to pay and you could lose.

One more thing: do you really think the health insurers will agree that you have the right to an appeal? They will fight you tooth and nail just as they fought, and spent hundreds of thousands, if not more, to dismantle Hawaii’s external review law, starting back in 2002 when they launched their attack to get ERISA plan members excluded. Bit-by-bit they have torn it down. It is especially ironic that the Administration’s chief argument is that ERISA members are excluded. The health insurers won that battle so let’s concede the whole war to them? That is indefensible public policy. Let’s just all turn our wallets over to them and let them take as much as they want.

By the way, you can strike a blow against the national attack on Medicare and Medicaid:
Reversing long-standing policy which even the Bush Administration supported, the Obama Administration has submitted a brief to the Supreme Court which can only be interpreted as relegating Medicaid beneficiaries to second-class citizen status. The amicus brief filed by Acting Solicitor General Neal K. Katyal on May 26 effectively exempts everyone receiving Medicaid - including children, the elderly and people with disabilities - from the protection of federal law by denying them access to federal courts.

Please read about the issue and consider signing our petition. If this brief is allowed to become policy, it will foreclose actions against state laws that violate Medicaid federal law. Senator Waxman has said the policy expressed in the brief is an abomination.

Also, please sit down today and send another email to the Governor and send a letter to the editor of any newspaper. People are still in the dark about SB1274 and what the Administration is poised to do with our patient protections.

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I'm the mom of a child with disabilities. Hannah's first neurologist said she might never develop beyond the level of a 2 month old infant, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. The brain damage was just too severe. Nine years later, she walks, uses a touchscreen computer and I've just been shown she can learn to construct sentences and do simple math with the right piece of technology. Along the way, I discovered I needed to teach myself what Hannah's rights to services really were. Learning about early intervention services led to reading about IDEA and then to EPSDT. I've been waiting for the Obama administration to realize the power and potential of EPSDT for the medical rights - including the right to stay at home with their families - of children with disabilities. The health reform people talk about long term care, and the disability people talk about education and employment, but nobody is talking about EPSDT. So I am.