Hartford HealthCare and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield settled their seven-week medical insurance dispute last weekend, restoring coverage and care to patients retroactively, so all may be well that ends well. But as the dispute was interrupting coverage and care, some state legislators said they would propose a bill to require medical insurers and health care providers to resolve such disputes by binding arbitration.
That’s probably not a good idea, since, as state and municipal governments have discovered in their labor relations, binding arbitration puts expenses beyond control, and if the expenses of medical insurers are put beyond control in any state, insurers may stop selling insurance there. This would be especially threatening since, under government pressure to cut costs while increasing benefits, the medical insurance industry already has consolidated sharply, reducing competition and consumer choice.
Meanwhile government policy also has been consolidating the hospital industry. The interruption of Anthem’s coverage for Hartford HealthCare patients was so inconvenient because the hospital company now runs seven hospitals and many clinics in the state and has little competition in some areas.
Having consolidated two vital industries, government now complains about the consequences of consolidation. What did anyone in authority think would happen when competition was eliminated?
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The ‘negligent entrustment’ scam: Some people think private possession of high-powered rifles should be prohibited. Others think that the private possession of all guns should be outlawed. But how should such policy be decided, especially when the Constitution itself establishes the right to bear arms?
Relatives of the victims of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown are trying to get high-powered rifles outlawed through a lawsuit heard last week by the state Supreme Court. The plaintiffs are using a legal rationale called “negligent entrustment” to argue that the manufacturer of the rifle used in the massacre should be liable for financial damages because it knew or should have known that the rifle would be used by an evildoer.
There may be cases where “negligent entrustment” is a fair complaint but the Newtown massacre is not one of them, and a Superior Court judge dismissed the claim before it was appealed to the Supreme Court.
Federal law exempts gun manufacturers from liability for misuse of their products. Otherwise, as the plaintiffs know and intend, there would be no more gun manufacturing once a few criminals committed gun crimes for which manufacturers were held responsible.
Besides, the facts of the Newtown massacre don’t fit “negligent entrustment.” For the rifle used was sold by the manufacturer to a gun shop and then by the shop to the perpetrator’s mother before her disturbed son stole it and killed her and the people at the school. Neither the manufacturer nor the retailer entrusted the gun to the killer.
In recent years Connecticut’s Supreme Court often has been a ‘results-oriented” court, first determining the political policy it thinks the state should follow and then tailoring its decisions accordingly, disregarding the law as it stands. So the court may validate the “negligent entrustment” claim to try to outlaw guns outside the democratic process, even if such a decision will imply vast new liability for manufacturers of any product improperly used to cause harm.
In that event the rifle manufacturer will appeal to the federal courts even as the case relieves pressure to address gun issues through the democratic process, as they should be addressed.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.