A federal judge in Miami has allowed discovery to proceed in lawsuits that doctors and patients filed against several of the nation's leading health insurers accusing them of an array of deceptive business practices, including racketeering. Effective Sept. 30, U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno lifted a previously issued stay blocking discovery; but he has yet to set the ground rules for discovery, such as the duration and the nature of evidence that can be presented. While attorneys for the plaintiffs called the ruling a major step forward, some healthcare analysts downplayed its significance. Joshua Raskin of Lehman Bros., New York, called the decision a "minor procedural ruling" that "in no way should be interpreted as a vote of confidence by the judge as to the merits of the case." Raskin said in a research note that Moreno still must rule on larger issues, such as plaintiffs' request to unite the lawsuits into one class action. The American Association of Health Plans was not immediately available for comment. The California Medical Association originally filed the lawsuit in May 2000 and has since been joined by the state medical associations of Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, as well as several hundred individual physicians and patients. -- by Laura B. Benko
HMO racketeering suit to proceed to discovery
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