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Susan Wood ReportingWhen you go to see a new doctor there are usually a lot of papers to sign. Well there is one more you might see soon, and it could very well effect whether you get any care or not.
It's the story of a woman who is being tested for possible sleep apnea. She went from her primary care physician to a specialist to get answers to her medical questions. She ended up with more questions than answers, only now they are legal questions.
After a series of medical tests Vickie Yates was anxious to see a pulmonologist. So she chose one of the preferred providers on her IHC Healthcare plan. But before she could see the doctor, she had to sign a legal agreement.
Vicky Yates, Won't Sign Arbitration Agreement: “And it was basically like they were holding this form over my head saying you can’t see the doctor unless you sign this paper."
It's an arbitration agreement, required now by many IHC physicians. Vicky's had a bad experience with arbitration in the past and didn't want to sign. So she was told she'd have to see another doctor, but the other doctors on her insurance also require a signature for treatment.
Once you sign the agreement you waive all future rights to take your doctor to court. Further, your husband, your wife, even your children give up their rights to file a malpractice suit against your doctor.
Brian King, Attorney: "That sort of hammer being held over the head of a patient is very troubling."
Attorney Brian King says the time to approach a patient about such a serious legal issue isn't when they're worried about getting well.
Brian King, Attorney: “It’s presented as something as, oh, everyone does this. I mean you know, what, you don’t want to sign this. You’re hassling us or you’re questioning us. There’s a lot of pressure when its presented at the time a person goes into a healthcare provider to just do it, you know, what are you worrying about."
Dr. Greg Schwitzer, MD, IHC VP Clinical Programs: "We've had literally thousands of patients sign these agreements and maybe one out of a thousand refuse to sign."
Doctors say arbitration will cut medical costs by reducing the exorbitant costs of medical malpractice insurance. It will also speed up a resolution to a case. But patients like Vicky say she'd appreciate the opportunity to see a doctor without being pressured to give up her basic rights.
There is one way you can opt out of an arbitration agreement after you've signed. There is a clause in this particular agreement that give you 30 days to change your mind. If you do so, in writing, you cannot be bound by the agreement. Technically, Vicky could sign the agreement every time she went to see the doctor, then continually opt out.