Judge blocks Kaiser Permanente’s attempt to bar public from hearing on $4 million fine

April 14th, 2014

Judge Ruth S. Astle of the Office of Administrative Hearings denied Kaiser’s request Friday to bar the public from an upcoming hearing regarding a $4 million fine levied against the HMO. California’s Department of Managed Health Care issued the fine — the second largest in its history — in June 2013 for multiple violations of California law that denied patients appropriate access to mental health care.

Judge Astle — citing letters from organizations including the Mental Health Association of California, the California Psychological Association, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the California Psychiatric Association, the California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and NUHW — dismissed Kaiser’s effort to bar the public and journalists by stating flatly that these are public hearings and she will not close them or seal the hearing documents from public view.

The hearing, scheduled to begin on May 12, 2014 in Oakland, will include testimony from Kaiser’s patients and mental health clinicians about Kaiser’s violations and their impact on patients and their families. Kaiser’s motion had requested “an order for closure of the entire hearing…”

Kaiser is trying to avoid paying the DMHC fine, which was levied in response to an exhaustive complaint filed by Kaiser’s own clinicians working through NUHW. The details of the violations, contained in an NUHW report entitled “Care Delayed, Care Denied,” were confirmed by the DMHC’s investigators, who found Kaiser guilty of “serious” violations in its mental health care services.

The DMHC cited Kaiser for illegally delaying patients’ access to mental health services and violating the California Mental Health Parity Act, among other violations. Lengthy wait times for Kaiser members in need of psychiatric care often result in severe hardships for patients and their families, and in various cases the consequences are fatal. Kaiser is facing several lawsuits for these failures, including a class-action suit filed by patients and families who suffered as a result of the HMO’s policies.

Judge Astle’s ruling is a victory for the public, for Kaiser members, and for the dedicated clinicians who brought Kaiser’s deficient mental health services to light and are fighting to improve standards of care for their patients.

Letters
Mental Health Association of California
California Psychological Association
California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
California Psychiatric Association,
California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers
National Union of Healthcare Workers