Legislator Wants to Revisit Medical Arbitration Issue

Legislator Wants to Revisit Medical Arbitration Issue

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A legislator who helped enact the measure allowing IHC to insist patients agree to arbitration wants to revisit the issue in the upcoming session.

"The way the law is right now, it's very lopsided in favor of IHC," said Sen. Parley Hellewell, R-Orem. "Arbitration is good and a lot of things should be done in arbitration -- even medical arbitration -- but when it's made mandatory and you have to sign it ahead of time, it's so lopsided it's not fair.

"I did vote for it. It was a mistake," said Hellewell, who said he'll sponsor legislation to eliminate the medical arbitration provisions passed last year.

The law passed last session allows health-care providers to refuse to treat patients who will not sign agreements to settle any medical-care disputes through arbitration rather than malpractice lawsuits. It does not apply to those seeking emergency care.

Proponents of medical arbitration say it's a much faster, fairer, simpler way to resolve disputes. Some physicians were requiring patients to sign the agreements long before lawmakers gave their stamp of approval.

The controversy began when Intermountain Health Care's physician group recently began requiring patients to sign the arbitration agreements, which apply to all care received throughout the IHC system.

Hellewell said his as-yet-unfinished bill will "probably say you can do arbitration," but must be agreed to after a problem arises. Patients would not have to agree to arbitrate before problems with care occur, possibly with doctors they had not even met.

IHC representatives did not respond to Hellewell's comments, but deferred questions to the still unnamed coalition formed to publicize the benefits of arbitration.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson of the Exoro Group, the public relations and consulting company hired to help with the publicity campaign, said, "I think Parley didn't understand (the legislation) then, and I don't think he understands it now."

Wilson argued that arbitration should slow the rising costs of malpractice insurance rates.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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