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News Briefs II

California Unions Attack HMOs

Los Angeles Times

Launching broadsides against California's powerful managed health care industry, two union-sponsored coalitions said Monday they have gathered enough signatures to put separate initiatives on the state's November ballot to sharply regulate health maintenance organizations.

The two similar but competing initiatives set the stage for a high-stakes political battle between organized labor and the insurance industry and other business interests, a struggle sure to further fuel the emotional nationwide debate over how to reform health care.

The ambitious measures are an attempt to exploit public skepticism about the pervasive influence that the managed care industry is having on the practice of medicine in the United States. Helping to fuel this skepticism have been stories of HMO abuses, widely circulated in the media and by doctors, lawmakers, labor organizers and consumer advocates.

The initiatives cover some of the same ground but differ in several key areas. Both would ban financial incentives to doctors or nurses to deny or delay care, prohibit so-called "physician gag orders" and require second opinions before insurers could deny care recommended by a doctor.

The proposition backed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and the California Nurses Association, a labor union, would limit premium increases of health insurers, impose fees on health care mergers and hospital closures, prohibit HMOs from mandating that consumer grievances be settled by out-of-court private arbitration, and set up a nonprofit consumer watchdog board to advocate on behalf of patients.

Hatch Uses Obscure Anti-Nepotism Law to Bar Judicial Appointment

Los Angeles Times

When President Clinton nominated his old friend William Fletcher for a coveted position on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last April, he set the stage for the first mother-son combination on the federal bench.

Both Fletcher, a well-respected University of California, Berkeley, law professor, and his mother, Betty B. Fletcher, a 9th Circuit judge since 1979, expressed delight at the prospect of serving together. "There are lots of sons, but not very many mothers," she quipped at the time.

But that relationship has since turned into his greatest liability, and Fletcher's prospects for getting the judgeship before this year's presidential election now appear bleak.

U.S. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has invoked an obscure anti-nepotism law to block Fletcher's nomination. Hatch contends that the 1887 statute prohibits the 50-year-old scholar from serving on the court at the same time as his mother, a Jimmy Carter appointee who is considered one of the circuit's most liberal jurists.

The statute, never before used to block a judicial nomination, says, in part, "No person shall be appointed to or employed in any office or duty in any court who is related by" blood or marriage "within the degree of first cousin to any justice or judge of such court."