Saturday, July 24, 2010

Amador against merging advocates’ offices

by Juan A. Hernandez

Puerto Rico Patients’ Advocate Luz Teresa Amador lambasted the House substitute bill for the Government Reorganization Plan Num. 1 – Advocates Offices because it represents “a clear setback” in the advances made in favor of the less privileged citizens and patients in general.

“[The proposed plan] represents a clear setback to avant garde laws adopted by previous administrations to protect the rights of the 3.8 million citizen-patients, which are closely related to their rights to life and health,” Amador said Thursday during a public hearing of the Senate’s Government Committee.

According to Amador, the proposed reorganization plan, which substitutes the Senate’s version, is “deficient, ineffective, discriminatory, contradictory and irrational … and extremely dangerous” to the 3.8 million potential patients her agency cares for.

Patients subscribing to the Government’s Health Plan would have to file their complaints before the contracted insurers first and appeal later to the Health Insurance Administration .

“This [reorganization] plan undermines the interests of the less privileged patients subscribed to the Government’s Health Plan because it forces them to file their complaints before the very same agencies that have failed to defend their rights,” Amador said.

Nevertheless, Amador did admit that a positive aspect of the plan is that it would allow the Advocate to monitor the State Insurance Fund Corporation and the Administration for Compensation for Traffic Accidents, something current regulations do not allow.

But, while the Advocate would have authority over these public corporations, for Amador the proposed plan further limits its jurisdiction by preventing it from monitoring and regulating private insurance companies, hospitals and doctors, thus leaving more than two million privately insured patients without any protection.

Amador also expressed her opposition to the possibility of developing single unified procedure to file complaints before all advocate offices.

“The level of efficiency we have reached through technology and an effective complaints filling process would be greatly upset by new regulations that extends the terms for investigating and solving the complaints,” Amador said.

“Imagine a patient that has filed a complaint appealing his discharge from the hospital because he considers he is still very ill. Or a cancer patient whose chemotherapy has been denied,” questioned Amador pointing to the complexity and seriousness of the complaints her office receives.

“It is not possible to create a uniform system for filing complaints due to the nature of the complaints each advocate office receives,” Amador argued.

The Patients Advocate also questioned how much money would be saved by reorganizing all of the advocates’ offices under a single umbrella-type of agency.

Quoting figures directly from the Puerto Rico Budget and Management Office, Amador said only $2.5 million would be saved in rent, should her office be fused together with other advocate offices.

“Should these minimal savings prevail over the devastating effects this plan would have on the lives and health of the people,” Amador questioned.

Amador, also a medical doctor, announced Thursday her decision to retire from the government after 30 years of service. She assured her decision was not based on her differences with the administration over the proposed reorganization plans, but rather the result of a “well planned process.”

“For more than six months I’ve been consulting with my family and friends about this and I’ve decided to retire … It is time to give the new generation the chance to continue with this work in favor of the less privileged,” she said.

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