When Judy Packevicz died on an operating table last month, family and friends blamed her health maintenance organization for delaying the liver transplant for which she had waited months.
Now, an alliance of doctors, lawyers and public-interest groups say Mrs. Packevicz will not have died in vain if her death spurs state legislators to adopt a law that would allow consumers to sue their health-care providers if coverage is denied or delayed and the patient is harmed.
In June, Mrs. Packevicz sued her health-care provider, MVP Health Plan of Schenectady, after it denied her doctor's recommendation that she undergo a transplant to treat her liver cancer.
The health plan reversed its decision in July, and she was given the surgery July 29. She died during the operation, just as doctors opened up her son to remove part of his healthy liver to give to her. She was 58.
Mrs. Packevicz's husband, Chuck, said he thinks that his wife would still be alive if the transplant would have been done in April, when her doctor first recommended it.
"Quite frankly, if it had been done in April, when we requested it, when she was very strong -- she was out every day working in her garden -- I know she would have" survived the operation, Chuck Packevicz said in Sunday's Schenectady Gazette.
Now, Packevicz and members of the legal and medical community are pushing for the HMO liability legislation, which they say may soon be known as "Judy's Law."
"I have supported changes in the state law because there is a benefit to getting these obstacles knocked down," said Eugene Anderson, the New York City attorney who represented Mrs. Packevicz and her husband in their litigation. "We've got to get rid of the obstacles, and I think we will someday. This is inhumane."
Opponents of the legislation say consumers are better served by recently passed federal and state legislation that allows consumers to appeal decisions made by insurance companies.
State Republicans signed a bill Aug. 5 that approves external reviews of denied applications, and has become a model for legislation in other states.
"We in the Senate were instrumental in proposing two years ago this external review process," said John E. McArdle, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick.
"Anyone denied critical care can appeal to an external panel and have an expedited hearing," McArdle said. "We feel that that will only drive up the cost of health insurance for everybody."
Allowing consumers to sue HMOs could cost consumers $10 billion to $20 billion per year, according to the HMO Council and Conference of New York, which opposes the legislation.