The much-publicized 2000 case of Frew v. Gilbert, in which a federal judge castigated the State of Texas for deficiencies in its Medicaid program, brought renewed attention to the issue of regulating the quality of care in Medicaid and Medicare HMOs. Frew and other recent cases highlight both the promise and the pitfalls of relying on courts to correct deficiencies in public managed care programs. This article argues that while litigation over inadequacies in Medicare and Medicaid managed care can serve an important signaling function in alerting agencies and legislatures about the need for reform, the role of the courts in policing public managed care is circumscribed by several constraints. Barriers to class action litigation and differences in the institutional capacities of courts and administrative agencies mean that litigation is best viewed as a supplement, not an alternative, to a renewed commitment to strong quality monitoring on the part of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and state Medicaid agencies.

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