1999-10-13 / Seniors

Supreme Ct. To Hear HMO, Grandparents ‘Rights’

By John Toscano

We wrote last week about the operators of the Medicare program sending out a new handbook to explain your choices for health care coverage: whether to stick with Medicare, if you presently have it, or whether you might want to switch to a Health Maintenance Organization, a privately-run health care plan.

Now comes news that the United States Supreme Court is going to hear a case involving an HMO and whether that group placed its own financial interests over a patient’s best interests.

The case involves a woman in Illinois who belonged to an HMO in 1991 and went to her primary care physician complaining of abdominal pain. Upon examination, her doctor found the patient’s appendix was inflamed. The doctor told her she would have to wait eight days for an ultrasound examination to be performed by the HMO staff, but the patient’s appendix burst while she was waiting for the ultrasound examination and she became more seriously ill. She recovered,however, and then sued the HMO and was rewarded a $35,000 settlement. As part of her suit, her lawyers argued that the HMO had not placed her interests first and should have attended to her ailment more expeditiously even if treatment was more costly than waiting for the HMO staff to do the ultrasound test.

Following appeals on the question whether the HMO had acted properly, a group of HMO organizations asked the Supreme Court to review the case and that body voted to do so.

The case is important because the decision deals with the rights of HMO members generally. While HMO members have a limited right to sue their HMO, there is a move in Congress to expand this right as part of a broader movement to enact a Patients’ Bill of Rights to spell out in detail what protections HMO members should have. Legislation covering this is expected to be considered momentarily in Congress.

GRANDPARENTS’ RIGHT TO VISIT:

The U.S. Supreme Court will also be hearing a case that’s very important to seniors and non-seniors as well—whether a state can give visitation rights to a grandparent when the child’s parents object.

This involves a Washington state case where the state’s highest court ruled that after a divorce or some other break up in a family, the parents have a basic right to run their family as they see fit, even if the state law authorizes visitation rights of grandparents.

This case involves a woman who had two children out of wedlock with a man who subsequently died. After his death, the woman married and her husband adopted the two girls. The new couple also decided they wanted to limit their children’s contact with the children’s grandparents, who were the parents of the man who fathered them. A lower court ruled in favor of the grandparents under the state law that is similar to laws in all 50 states. The parents appealed and the Washington Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling, saying that decision was unconstitutional and violated the fundamental right of parents to run their own family’s affairs.

JEWS AND JUDAISM:

Beginning on Monday, Oct. 18th and for the five following Mondays, the Central Queens YM & YWHA, 67-09 108th St., Forest Hills, is offering a course which will look into the "influence, effects, and consequences" of Jews leaving the ghetto to become part of the "outside world," and how Judaism reacted to that decision. Instructor is Schulamith Goldstein, it costs $12 for members, $18 for nonmembers, and will be held from 10 to 11:15 a.m.

LOW-COST BANKING:

If you’re receiving Social Security or other federal government benefits and don’t have a bank account, you now can have those benefits deposited directly into a new kind of account. It’s called an "ETA,"or Electronic Transfer Account. It’s low cost and insured and gives you ready access to your money.

This new program arose from the one established in1996 to reduce costs incurred by federal agencies, including Social Security, in mailing out benefit checks. Each check mailed costs 43 cents but only two cents to deposit it electronically. Electronic deposit is also safer since that option eliminates stolen or lost checks. You also don’t have to go to a check-cashing agency which might charge you a high fee. About 33 million Americans are now enrolled in the electronic deposit program, a recent AARP bulletin said. There are still 11 million beneficiaries who receive checks in the mail, and 3.7 million don’t have bank accounts, so the new program is for them. If you’re interested, inquire about the program at your local bank.

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