Breaux, Collins Seeking Patients’ Rights Compromise
Addressing an American Association of Health Plans conference yesterday, Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that they "are participating in a working group" that aims to "craft" a compromise patients' bill of rights, CongressDaily reports. Breaux said he was "more encouraged" about passing legislation "this year than in the past" because there are "different players," but Collins said she was "more optimistic before" Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the Kennedy-McCain patients' rights proposal (S 283) earlier this month (Fulton, CongressDaily, 2/27). The Kennedy-McCain Bipartisan Patient Protection Act of 2001 -- which would allow patients to sue HMOs in state court for denial of benefits or quality of care issues and in federal court for non-quality of care issues, such as those involving violations of their health plan's contract -- was criticized by President Bush, who said it would "make it too easy for patients to sue HMOs and insurance companies" (California Healthline, 2/7). One of the main goals of the working group, led by Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), is to address this "main sticking point" and "find a way to require patients who want to sue their health plans to exhaust the plan's administrative remedies first." The working group also includes Sens. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). The group "has been meeting for several weeks to create a plan that embodies the principles recently laid out by President Bush" and that serves as an "alternative" to the Kennedy-McCain bill.
Collins said at the AAHP conference that Congress should not only work to offer a patients' bill of rights but also to expand coverage. She said that she will soon introduce "a package of small business tax credits and tax breaks for those who pay for health insurance themselves." In addition, Breaux "touted the prescription drug plan" he recently drafted with Frist (CongressDaily, 2/27).