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Thursday, Dec. 18, 1997
HMO agrees to pay family of man who died while awaiting treatment
DALLAS -- An HMO has agreed to pay $5.35 million to a family who claimed that medical cost-cutting led to a man's death from untreated heart disease.
Lawyers for the family of Ronald Henderson alleged that a plan by Kaiser Permanente's North Texas HMO to cut hospital expenses by 45 percent, plus an HMO official's speech that stressed putting ``the bottom line'' first, led to the 56-year-old man's death.
The HMO agreed to the settlement Tuesday after a test jury in a novel nonbinding minitrial said it would have awarded the family more than 10 times that amount if the case had gone to an actual trial.
The experimental two-day procedure in District Judge John M. Marshall's court is aimed at encouraging out-of-court settlements.
The family said Kaiser doctors discharged Henderson from a hospital without referring him to a cardiologist. They also presented evidence that Kaiser's medical-advice nurses gave him bad instructions by telephone.
Family lawyer Randall Moore said the case was brought ``to take note of our belief that too many people are dying in their system.''
Kaiser denied wrongdoing and argued that Henderson was an overweight smoker who did not obey doctors' orders. Its lawyers denied that cost-cutting had anything to do with the Irving man's death and accused the family's lawyers of trying to divert attention from specific medical issues.
Kaiser spokesman David O'Grady said the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing, but ``enables us to return our focus to providing our members quality health care -- to move from the courtroom back to the exam room.''
Kaiser expressed displeasure with the minitrial process, saying the ``verdict was not a real verdict, the damages are not real damages, this was not a real trial.''