The long-awaited court trial in the class-action lawsuit filed by physicians who claim they were shortchanged by the nation's largest health insurers has been delayed another six months. U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno in Miami postponed the start of the trial to Sept. 6, 2005, from March 6 after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld class-action status for the lawsuit in September and then upheld a ruling in November that HMOs cannot force arbitration of claims brought on behalf of the 900,000 physicians who form the class. Moreno said the appeals had delayed certain milestones leading to trial, such as depositions, witness lists and procedural motions. The health insurers have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court but are preparing for trial at the same time.
The lawsuit, first filed in 1999, alleges that UnitedHealth Group, Anthem, WellPoint Health Networks, PacifiCare Health Systems, Health Net, Humana and Coventry Health Care violated racketeering laws by systematically delaying and denying the payment of claims. (Aetna and Cigna Corp. were also named in the suit but have since reached settlements valued at a combined $1.1 billion.) The trial was originally set to begin in June 2004 but was postponed to Sept. 13 and yet again to March 6. -- by Laura B. Benko