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NEW YORK -- The largest independent group that arbitrates legal disputes is expected to announce it will stop doing mandatory arbitration for health care disagreements.

The New York based-American Arbitration Assn.'s new policy, which has not yet been made final by association leaders, probably will take effect later in the summer, said Scott Carfello, regional vp in Chicago. A report to be released this month by a committee consisting of the AAA, the American Bar Assn. and the American Medical Assn. will recommend ending arbitration in cases where managed care contracts mandate arbitration instead of court action, he said.

The association will continue to take cases when both the patient and health plan seek arbitration of their own free will and "parties agree knowingly, either in or out of contract," he said.

Part of the reason the group is shying away from mandatory cases is a California Supreme Court decision last year that blasted the mandatory arbitration process of Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente as being intolerably and intentionally slow, Mr. Carfello said. A Kaiser patient had died while waiting for a mandatory hearing with Kaiser's own arbitration board. The group also thinks that the stakes are too high to force binding arbitration on a patient whose health is at stake.