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Judge dismisses suit against Blue Shield's doctor-rating system

March 25, 2011 |  5:50 pm

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed last year by the California Medical Assn. against Blue Shield of California, alleging that the health insurer's new online doctor-rating system is inaccurate and misleads consumers.

Blue Shield's Blue Ribbon Recognition Program, launched in June, analyzed about 6,000 doctors statewide and posted blue ribbons on its website next to the names of those who met national standards for quality care.

In a ruling released Friday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven A. Brick dismissed the suit’s claims and agreed with Blue Shield’s attorney’s assertions that the program was a form of protected speech.

Dr. Michael-Anne Browne, Blue Shield's medical director for quality, called the dismissal, “a validation that Blue Shield has every right to recognize high-performing physicians through its Blue Ribbon Physician Recognition Program, and that none of the claims asserted by the CMA had legal merit.”

The medical association, which represents about 35,000 doctors statewide, sued to shut down the rating system last year, alleging that it failed to take into account information from patient medical charts, outcomes and previous treatment, in part because the program relies only on a few years of claims data from five insurance products sold by three large health plans -- Blue Shield of California, Anthem Blue Cross and UnitedHealthCare.

DOCUMENT: Read the full dismissal

Blue Shield officials have noted that their website includes a disclaimer qualifying the ratings as only one measure of physician quality.

“The Blue Ribbon Program recognizes thousands of high-volume, higher-performing doctors and has broad support from businesses, consumer advocates, labor organizations and others for breaking new ground in healthcare transparency,” Browne said in a statement Friday. “We are fully committed to providing our members and the general public with information they can use in evaluating the physicians who best fit their needs.”

Attorneys for the doctors’ group had not decided Friday whether to appeal the ruling, according to attorney Long Do, who said they were “quite disappointed.”

“The reason we filed our lawsuit in the first place is that we believe the data is inaccurate and Blue Shield is making a determination about a physician’s quality of practice based on faulty data,” Do said. “We didn’t even get a chance to explore that issue.”

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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