Managed Care Tension Builds in Calif.

The California Medical Association (CMA) filed a lawsuit on May 25 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against three leading health plans in the state. The suit accuses Health Net, Blue Cross of California and PacifiCare Health Systems of interfering with the doctor-patient relationship for their own financial gain, contending that doctors were underpaid and received unfair contract terms, and that payments for patient treatment were denied and delayed.

The lawsuit, which is seeking class action status, increases the tension in the managed care arena. San Francisco-based CMA, which represents more than 30,000 California doctors, filed a similar lawsuit last summer against eight HMOs in the state-including these three-accusing them of shirking payment of medical bills. Together, the three health plans have close to 11 million customers in California (Blue Cross has 5 million, Health Net has 2.2 million, and PacifiCare has 3.7 million).