Naked City

Seton Says Sorry

Last week, the Chronicle reported that the state Attorney General's office had sued the health management organization operated by Seton Healthcare Network for failing to report data to the Texas Health Care Information Council (THCIC). A state agency that works on behalf of consumers, employers, and health-care professionals, THCIC annually compiles info on HMOs and hospitals into consumer's guides. Seton spokeswoman Gayle Granberry says the Seton Health Plan -- a subsidiary of the Catholic nonprofit, the largest health care services provider in Central Texas -- regrets the HMO's inability to produce the data needed by the THCIC for its 1999 and 2000 guides.

"We are aware the information needs to be filed," Granberry said. "We actually do believe it should be made available to the public." In 1999, many Seton information technology workers fled for more lucrative opportunities, hindering the HMO's efforts to report to the THCIC, she said. In 2000, Seton hired a vendor to collect the info, but problems arose.

Granberry said the argument Seton presented to the 53rd District Court in November focuses on narrow legal issues -- specifically, whether the state can hold the HMO in contempt of court, and what fine it can impose. Currently, HMOs who do not report to the THCIC by June 15 are fined between $1,000 and $10,000; compiling the data can cost upward of $100,000. The Consumers Union is concerned that a Seton win will encourage the HMO to forgo reporting its data, pay a comparatively paltry penalty, and set a precedent for other HMOs to follow suit. Granberry says Seton has complied with THCIC requirements regarding similar data on its hospitals. "We're definitely, definitely trying to file in 2001," she said. "I believe we've resolved all of our issues."

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