Patients who choose arbitration to settle disputes with physicians would have to present their cases to a three-member panel under a bill passed Monday in the Utah Senate. Bipartisan opponents said the bill would make arbitration more expensive than necessary.
The bill is a response to Intermountain Health Care's policy of turning away patients in Salt Lake City and Bountiful who refused to sign mandatory arbitration agreements. The policy was allowed under a law passed last year.
This year's Senate Bill 245 allows patients to demand mediation in a dispute, followed by binding arbitration if mediation doesn't work. A three-member arbitration panel would consist of one person chosen by the patient, one by the physician and a third jointly selected. It also would shorten the time from 30 days to 10 days that a patient can opt out of a signed arbitration agreement.
Nearly three weeks ago, IHC rescinded its forced arbitration policy after a highly publicized battle pitting the state's largest healthcare network against patients' advocacy groups and trial lawyers.
The law enacted last year had allowed doctors to refuse treatment to nonemergency patients unless they agreed that any malpractice claims would be resolved by arbitration instead of lawsuits. IHC and the Utah Medical Association argued that arbitration was a quicker and cheaper solution that would curb the soaring costs of medical malpractice insurance.
But patients' advocates objected to forced arbitration, saying its upfront costs would dissuade some from pursuing claims.