Federal judge grants 600,000 doctors class action status in lawsuit against top HMOs
Saying a federal judge has galvanized the patient protection efforts of every doctor in the United States into "one sharp scalpel now aimed squarely at the nation's profit-driven managed care industry," the Texas Medical Association is heralding U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno's decision to certify the doctors' class action status in a landmark lawsuit that alleges health insurers skimp on patient care to maximize their profits.
|"[This] ruling validates our contention that these lawsuits are without merit, and should be dismissed."|
The lawsuit, originally filed in 2000 by the California Medical Association and later joined by several others, alleges that Aetna US Healthcare, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, CIGNA HealthCare, Coventry, Humana Health Plan, PacifiCare Health Systems, UnitedHealthcare, and WellPoint are "co-conspirators" that have violated contracts and defrauded doctors in violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO).
However, in the same ruling, Moreno denied class certification to an estimated 145 million patients covered by the same HMOs. Attorneys for the HMOs have contended all along that a single patient lawsuit would be too difficult to handle and that individual patient disputes can be handled through arbitration.
The American Association of Health Plans (AAHP), the largest national trade organization representing more than 1,000 HMOs, applauded Moreno's decision to deny certification of the patient lawsuit.
"In the nearly three years already devoted to this case, resources have been siphoned out of the health care system by a fishing expedition that is based on unfounded and irresponsible legal theories advanced by the plaintiffs' lawyers," according to AAHP. "[This] ruling validates our contention that these lawsuits are without merit, and should be dismissed. We now are hopeful that a similar dose of common sense will be applied to the second class action track, which wrongly attempts to lump together individual issues between individual doctors and individual health plans."
Although the certification of the patients' lawsuit was denied, the participating state medical associations says they are still pleased with the outcome.
"America's physicians, now united and represented by some of the country's leading medical societies, are determined to restore sanity and fair play to what has become a very disturbing industry," says Archie Lamb, co-lead counsel for state medical associations of California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and individual physicians. "All of the defendants and many other critics said this day would never come. Our battle is far from over but this a great day for America's physicians and their patients."