Wednesday, May 10, 2006

State (Finally) Moves In On Kaiser's Kidney Transplants

Maybe it's that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to be reelected. And maybe, it's just because state government takes its time catching up to the newspapers. But the state has moved in on Kaiser Permanente, directing the big medical plan to pay for its patients getting kidney transplants at outside hospitals.

After the failure of Kaiser's new Northern California transplant center to protect the very lives of patients, lending itself to long delays in securing transplants, and generally leading transplant hopefuls astray, the director of the California Department of Managed Care, said specifically that the patients could now return to the hospitals at UC Davis and UC San Francisco for their transplants.

Cindy Ehnes said in a L.A. Times interview, "Let me put it this way, they (Kaiser) will do want the patients want them to do." It will be Kaiser, she said, which "will be ending up financially responsible for transplants that are received in other institutions."

The arrangement was to be formally announced today at a news conference.

Kaiser's disgraceful neglect of its own members is more serious than Chicago Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimon's neglect of the Los Angeles Times. In the Kaiser case, the very lives of its patients, not just their careers, has been at stake.

This is, of course, not the first time that the state government bureaucracy was finally induced to do the right thing by the press. California has many regulatory boards that are understaffed, scarcely fulfilling their responsibilities to the public. Nowhere is this clearer than in health care regulation, including both doctors and drugs.

Now, with $5 billion in previously unexpected tax revenues, the state definitely has the wherewithal to beef up the regulatory agencies, and, I once calculated, as little as $150 million more directed annually to these entities would lead to a substantial improvement in performance of their functions.

With the Times reporting also this morning on one of the leading Democratic challengers for governor, State Controller Steve Westly, helping his campaign contributors to obtain multimillion-dollar investments from the state's huge pension fund, it would seem, meanwhile, that Schwarzenegger's prospects of reelection are enhanced.

All the governor has to do now is start serving the public rather than the business interests from which he has received so much support, after proclaiming in the Recall campaign that he would not serve special interests.

The Kaiser scandal, so comprehensively reported by Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber of the Times, opens an opportunity for the Administration to do just that, plus an opportunity for Kaiser to restore its good reputation by abandoning unsavory policies.

That these things might happen may be more likely than FitzSimons changing his stripes.

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