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Legal Resources | Health and Safety Code |  HS  1368  

Health Care Plans; Grievances   

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(a) Every plan shall do all of the following:

(1) Establish and maintain a grievance system approved by the department under which enrollees may submit their grievances to the plan. Each system shall provide reasonable procedures in accordance with department regulations that shall ensure adequate consideration of enrollee grievances and rectification when appropriate.

(2) Inform its subscribers and enrollees upon enrollment in the plan and annually thereafter of the procedure for processing and resolving grievances. The information shall include the location and telephone number where grievances may be submitted.

(3) Provide forms for grievances to be given to subscribers and enrollees who wish to register written grievances. The forms used by plans licensed pursuant to Section 1353 shall be approved by the director in advance as to format.

(4) (A) Provide for a written acknowledgment within five calendar days of the receipt of a grievance, except as noted in subparagraph (B). The acknowledgment shall advise the complainant of the following:

(i) That the grievance has been received.

(ii) The date of receipt.

(iii) The name of the plan representative and the telephone number and address of the plan representative who may be contacted about the grievance.

(B) (i) Grievances received by telephone, by facsimile, by email, or online through the plan's Internet Web site pursuant to Section 1368.015, that are not coverage disputes, disputed health care services involving medical necessity, or experimental or investigational treatment and that are resolved by the next business day following receipt are exempt from the requirements of subparagraph (A) and paragraph (5). The plan shall maintain a log of all these grievances. The log shall be periodically reviewed by the plan and shall include the following information for each complaint:

(I) The date of the call.

(II) The name of the complainant.

(III) The complainant's member identification number.

(IV) The nature of the grievance.

(V) The nature of the resolution.

(VI) The name of the plan representative who took the call and resolved the grievance.

(ii) For health plan contracts in the individual, small group, or large group markets, a health care service plan's response to grievances subject to Section 1367.24 shall also comply with subdivision (c) of Section 156.122 of Title 45 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This paragraph shall not apply to Medi-Cal managed care health care service plan contracts or any entity that enters into a contract with the State Department of Health Care Services pursuant to Chapter 7 (commencing with Section 14000), Chapter 8 (commencing with Section 14200), or Chapter 8.75 (commencing with Section 14591) of Part 3 of Division 9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.

(5) Provide subscribers and enrollees with written responses to grievances, with a clear and concise explanation of the reasons for the plan's response. For grievances involving the delay, denial, or modification of health care services, the plan response shall describe the criteria used and the clinical reasons for its decision, including all criteria and clinical reasons related to medical necessity. If a plan, or one of its contracting providers, issues a decision delaying, denying, or modifying health care services based in whole or in part on a finding that the proposed health care services are not a covered benefit under the contract that applies to the enrollee, the decision shall clearly specify the provisions in the contract that exclude that coverage.

(6) For grievances involving the cancellation, rescission, or nonrenewal of a health care service plan contract, the health care service plan shall continue to provide coverage to the enrollee or subscriber under the terms of the health care service plan contract until a final determination of the enrollee's or subscriber's request for review has been made by the health care service plan or the director pursuant to Section 1365 and this section. This paragraph shall not apply if the health care service plan cancels or fails to renew the enrollee's or subscriber's health care service plan contract for nonpayment of premiums pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 1365.

(7) Keep in its files all copies of grievances, and the responses thereto, for a period of five years.

(b) (1) (A) After either completing the grievance process described in subdivision (a), or participating in the process for at least 30 days, a subscriber or enrollee may submit the grievance to the department for review. In any case determined by the department to be a case involving an imminent and serious threat to the health of the patient, including, but not limited to, severe pain, the potential loss of life, limb, or major bodily function, cancellations, rescissions, or the nonrenewal of a health care service plan contract, or in any other case where the department determines that an earlier review is warranted, a subscriber or enrollee shall not be required to complete the grievance process or to participate in the process for at least 30 days before submitting a grievance to the department for review.

(B) A grievance may be submitted to the department for review and resolution prior to any arbitration.

(C) Notwithstanding subparagraphs (A) and (B), the department may refer any grievance that does not pertain to compliance with this chapter to the State Department of Public Health, the California Department of Aging, the federal Health Care Financing Administration, or any other appropriate governmental entity for investigation and resolution.

(2) If the subscriber or enrollee is a minor, or is incompetent or incapacitated, the parent, guardian, conservator, relative, or other designee of the subscriber or enrollee, as appropriate, may submit the grievance to the department as the agent of the subscriber or enrollee. Further, a provider may join with, or otherwise assist, a subscriber or enrollee, or the agent, to submit the grievance to the department. In addition, following submission of the grievance to the department, the subscriber or enrollee, or the agent, may authorize the provider to assist, including advocating on behalf of the subscriber or enrollee. For purposes of this section, a "relative" includes the parent, stepparent, spouse, adult son or daughter, grandparent, brother, sister, uncle, or aunt of the subscriber or enrollee.

(3) The department shall review the written documents submitted with the subscriber's or the enrollee's request for review, or submitted by the agent on behalf of the subscriber or enrollee. The department may ask for additional information, and may hold an informal meeting with the involved parties, including providers who have joined in submitting the grievance or who are otherwise assisting or advocating on behalf of the subscriber or enrollee. If after reviewing the record, the department concludes that the grievance, in whole or in part, is eligible for review under the independent medical review system established pursuant to Article 5.55 (commencing with Section 1374.30), the department shall immediately notify the subscriber or enrollee, or agent, of that option and shall, if requested orally or in writing, assist the subscriber or enrollee in participating in the independent medical review system.

(4) If after reviewing the record of a grievance, the department concludes that a health care service eligible for coverage and payment under a health care service plan contract has been delayed, denied, or modified by a plan, or by one of its contracting providers, in whole or in part due to a determination that the service is not medically necessary, and that determination was not communicated to the enrollee in writing along with a notice of the enrollee's potential right to participate in the independent medical review system, as required by this chapter, the director shall, by order, assess administrative penalties. A proceeding for the issuance of an order assessing administrative penalties shall be subject to appropriate notice of, and the opportunity for, a hearing with regard to the person affected in accordance with Section 1397. The administrative penalties shall not be deemed an exclusive remedy available to the director. These penalties shall be paid to the Managed Care Administrative Fines and Penalties Fund and shall be used for the purposes specified in Section 1341.45.

(5) The department shall send a written notice of the final disposition of the grievance, and the reasons therefor, to the subscriber or enrollee, the agent, to any provider that has joined with or is otherwise assisting the subscriber or enrollee, and to the plan, within 30 calendar days of receipt of the request for review unless the director, in his or her discretion, determines that additional time is reasonably necessary to fully and fairly evaluate the relevant grievance. In any case not eligible for the independent medical review system established pursuant to Article 5.55 (commencing with Section 1374.30), the department's written notice shall include, at a minimum, the following:

(A) A summary of its findings and the reasons why the department found the plan to be, or not to be, in compliance with any applicable laws, regulations, or orders of the director.

(B) A discussion of the department's contact with any medical provider, or any other independent expert relied on by the department, along with a summary of the views and qualifications of that provider or expert.

(C) If the enrollee's grievance is sustained in whole or in part, information about any corrective action taken.

(6) In any department review of a grievance involving a disputed health care service, as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 1374.30, that is not eligible for the independent medical review system established pursuant to Article 5.55 (commencing with Section 1374.30), in which the department finds that the plan has delayed, denied, or modified health care services that are medically necessary, based on the specific medical circumstances of the enrollee, and those services are a covered benefit under the terms and conditions of the health care service plan contract, the department's written notice shall do either of the following:

(A) Order the plan to promptly offer and provide those health care services to the enrollee.

(B) Order the plan to promptly reimburse the enrollee for any reasonable costs associated with urgent care or emergency services, or other extraordinary and compelling health care services, when the department finds that the enrollee's decision to secure those services outside of the plan network was reasonable under the circumstances.

The department's order shall be binding on the plan.

(7) Distribution of the written notice shall not be deemed a waiver of any exemption or privilege under existing law, including, but not limited to, Section 6254.5 of the Government Code, for any information in connection with and including the written notice, nor shall any person employed or in any way retained by the department be required to testify as to that information or notice.

(8) The director shall establish and maintain a system of aging of grievances that are pending and unresolved for 30 days or more that shall include a brief explanation of the reasons each grievance is pending and unresolved for 30 days or more.

(9) A subscriber or enrollee, or the agent acting on behalf of a subscriber or enrollee, may also request voluntary mediation with the plan prior to exercising the right to submit a grievance to the department. The use of mediation services shall not preclude the right to submit a grievance to the department upon completion of mediation. In order to initiate mediation, the subscriber or enrollee, or the agent acting on behalf of the subscriber or enrollee, and the plan shall voluntarily agree to mediation. Expenses for mediation shall be borne equally by both sides. The department shall have no administrative or enforcement responsibilities in connection with the voluntary mediation process authorized by this paragraph.

(c) The plan's grievance system shall include a system of aging of grievances that are pending and unresolved for 30 days or more. The plan shall provide a quarterly report to the director of grievances pending and unresolved for 30 or more days with separate categories of grievances for Medicare enrollees and Medi-Cal enrollees. The plan shall include with the report a brief explanation of the reasons each grievance is pending and unresolved for 30 days or more. The plan may include the following statement in the quarterly report that is made available to the public by the director:

"Under Medicare and Medi-Cal law, Medicare enrollees and Medi-Cal enrollees each have separate avenues of appeal that are not available to other enrollees. Therefore, grievances pending and unresolved may reflect enrollees pursuing their Medicare or Medi-Cal appeal rights."

If requested by a plan, the director shall include this statement in a written report made available to the public and prepared by the director that describes or compares grievances that are pending and unresolved with the plan for 30 days or more. Additionally, the director shall, if requested by a plan, append to that written report a brief explanation, provided in writing by the plan, of the reasons why grievances described in that written report are pending and unresolved for 30 days or more. The director shall not be required to include a statement or append a brief explanation to a written report that the director is required to prepare under this chapter, including Sections 1380 and 1397.5.

(d) Subject to subparagraph (C) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (b), the grievance or resolution procedures authorized by this section shall be in addition to any other procedures that may be available to any person, and failure to pursue, exhaust, or engage in the procedures described in this section shall not preclude the use of any other remedy provided by law.

(e) Nothing in this section shall be construed to allow the submission to the department of any provider grievance under this section. However, as part of a provider's duty to advocate for medically appropriate health care for his or her patients pursuant to Sections 510 and 2056 of the Business and Professions Code, nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to prohibit a provider from contacting and informing the department about any concerns he or she has regarding compliance with or enforcement of this chapter.

(f) To the extent required by Section 2719 of the federal Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 300gg-19) and any subsequent rules or regulations, there shall be an independent external review pursuant to the standards required by the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services of a health care service plan's cancellation, rescission, or nonrenewal of an enrollee's or subscriber's coverage.

(Amended by Stats. 2015, Ch. 654, Sec. 3.)