Rep. Mike Feuer Struggles Against Medical-Error Billing

Assembly Member Feuer has authored a sensible bill with the intention of protecting consumers and it is having a tumultuous time getting passed.  AB 542 is an attempt at protecting consumers and patients from being billed for what are called “never events.”

A never event is a medical error that, frankly should never happen.  The term never event was first introduced by Ken Kizer MD, former CEO of the National Quality Forum (NQF), in reference to particularly shocking medical errors.  These adverse events are preventable, they are clearly identifiable and measurable, and they are serious – they result in death or significant disability.

Currently, operations done on the wrong body part account for most of the never events.  Other errors include dispensing the wrong medication, giving a transfusion of the wrong blood type, and leaving objects in patients.  Unfortunately, patients can still be held responsible for any charge resulting from the commission of the medical error, or actions taken to correct the error.

California passed legislation in 2006 requiring the reporting of all never events.  However hospitals and other providers are still allowed to bill patients for a treatment gone wrong and the treatments caused by their own errors.  A recent nation-wide survey found that at least half of the hospitals involved did not have policies waiving the costs incurred through a never event.  Furthermore, hospitals on average pass on to other payers 70 percent of the cost arising from the medical errors caused by negligence.

Mike Feuer proposes protecting patients as well as consumers.  Patients who have been harmed by medical errors should not be responsible for paying the bill for those errors.  Healthcare providers need to be made financially responsible for the commission of such medical errors; this will help ensure such devastating errors never occur.

Why is this bill having such a hard time passing?  It didn’t pass last year as AB 2146, and this year as AB 542 it’s seeing some opposition.  There are some inane technicalities that patients could get caught up in if the bill passes, which further illustrates how raunchy our healthcare system is.  For example, a patient reports to the Emergency Room and is found to have a sponge left inside that has eroded the biliary duct.  The patient needs to transfer to a hospital with a hepatobiliary specialist to repair this never event.  However, according to the legislation, the patient and her/his insurer cannot be billed for the services required to repair the injury. So, good luck finding a hospital that will accept the patient.

Opposers say that the bill creates precedent for a long list of never events that patients won’t have to pay for.  They are going as far as to say that a patient’s care won’t be reimbursed if they acquire C. diff colitis from antibiotic treatment. This balking is ridiculous because never events are clearly measurable, preventable medical errors that result in severe disability or death, there is no slippery slope.

Mike Feuer has worked hard on bills to oversee our long-term care facilities, regulate hospitals and protect the patients they serve.  He is a leader in the debate over health reform and has worked with advocacy groups to limit the incidence of never events.  Specifically, the Congress of California Seniors (a non-partisan private organization) has been by his side in this fight because never events devastate the health and finances of our seniors.

Mike Feuer has been a strong voice in the fight for a better safety net system to protect seniors and vulnerable families.  AB 542 is another effort to improve the health and well-being of Californians, by protecting consumers from being billed for never events.  Implementation of this bill would improve healthcare practices and protect patients by guarding them from being billed for obscene medical errors.