The lobbying group for large corporations, including Kaiser and Phillip Morris, that seek to limit consumer's legal rights will bring the purportedly "independent" administrator of Kaiser's arbitration system to be its "representative" for hearings next week. Jeff Seivers of the Civil Justice Association wrote the Assembly Judiciary Committee that, "We will bring as our representative Sharon Hartmann, an attorney in Los Angeles who specializes in civil rights litigation and independently administers the arbitration system for Kaiser Permanante."
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) said the letter shows that the administrator is not independent from Kaiser, which chairs the Civil Justice Association, but is in fact working to give corporations an upper hand in the legal process. Kaiser's lobbyist Michael Hawkins is the chairman of the Civil Justice Association, formerly the California Tort Reform Association. The lobbying group includes Kaiser, Phillip Morris, State Farm, Farmer's Insurance, General Motors, Pfizer, the American Insurance Association and a roll call of other big corporations seeking to restrict consumers' legal rights and remedies. For instance, the Association opposes legislation making HMO arbitration voluntary, SB 458 (Escutia), legislation sponsored by FTCR. The full list of Association's anti-consumer legislative positions can be found at Civil Justice Legislation 2001: http://www.cjac.org/legis/legislation092001.html
"This is the equivalent of some one who purports to be as independent as the surgeon general testifying on behalf of the tobacco lobby," said Jamie Court, executive director of the FTCR. "If her testimony is for Kaiser, then her independence must be questioned."
Court noted he will call on California Attorney General to investigate the so-called "Office of Independent Administrator" run by Hartmann.
"For a purportedly independent administrator who holds the fate of hundreds of patient cases in her hands to be a representative of the big business lobby against patient rights suggests a monumental public fraud," said Court.
Sharon Lybeck Hartmann claims she has no preference for Kaiser and advertises on her web site (www.slhartmann.com) that she is completely independent of the HMO. The HMO theoretically reformed its arbitration system to be independent after the California Supreme Court ruled in 1997, "There is evidence that Kaiser established a self-administered arbitration system in which delay for its own benefit and convenience was an inherent part."