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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A new group opposed to Intermountain Health Care's recent arbitration mandate is threatening to file a lawsuit, pursue a ballot referendum and picket.
The group Patients Against Mandatory Medical Arbitration said it also might make public the names of IHC physicians involved in medical malpractice lawsuits and lobby the Legislature to force Utah hospitals to disclose instances of malpractice.
The group, joined by Utah AFL-CIO officials, held a press conference Tuesday, while IHC and doctors supporting the arbitration mandate held their own news conference.
IHC sent letters last week to 170,000 patients in Bountiful and Salt Lake County saying they would have to sign arbitration agreements or go elsewhere for treatment.
"In order to keep the doctor you have, you have to sign away your dyed-in-the-wool constitutional rights," said Greg Parrish, a small-business owner who formed PAMMA. "It's coercion."
Also speaking at the news conference were attorneys Jim McConkie and Brad Parker, representatives of the Amalgamated Transit Union and the AFL-CIO, and a citizens group called Utah Citizens Alliance.
McConkie said IHC was putting "itself first and injured patients and their families second."
Meanwhile, at the IHC news conference, Utah Medical Association officials defended mandatory arbitration.
"It's our belief that the current system is far too lengthy, far too intimidating and far too costly," said Richard Sperry, chairman of the UMA's legislative committee.
At the urging of the UMA and IHC, lawmakers in the most recent legislative session changed the medical arbitration law, enabling health-care providers to refuse treatment to patients who don't sign binding arbitration agreements.
Lawmakers exempted people who needed emergency treatment.
IHC first experimented with arbitration at its Sandy clinic. Of 17,000 patients who visited that clinic, only 17 declined to sign the agreements, said Linda Leckman, chief executive of IHC's physician's group.
As of Wednesday, the program expands to 400 IHC-employed physicians in Salt Lake County and Bountiful.
The arbitration panel consists of a patient representative, a representative chosen by the physician and a lawyer on the state court's arbitrator list.
McConkie says arbitration will be very costly to patients, who would have to pay the hourly fees of its chosen arbitrator, half the salary of the independent member, costs for expert witnesses and attorneys fees, if they decided to hire a lawyer.
UMA and IHC officials said arbitration will be more affordable because arbitration is quick and patients will pay less in legal fees.
Lawyers commonly take medical malpractice lawsuits on a contingency basis, meaning they get paid only if there is an award, but IHC and UMA officials contend that patients typically encounter upfront, out-of-pocket expenses.
Leckman said will reduce medical malpractice insurance premium rates, which she said are soaring in part because of large jury awards.
Critics say malpractice rates have gone up because the fall in stock market prices cut into insurance companies' investment profits.
IHC is the first health-care system in the state to mandate arbitration agreements, though some doctors outside IHC's system have adopted the policy themselves.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)