Bush Asks Congress to Pass ‘Good’ Patients’ Rights Bill
President Bush "implored" Congress yesterday to pass patients' rights legislation that addresses his concern for limiting lawsuits, "portraying himself as a proponent of -- and not an obstacle to -- legislation that most Americans support," the New York Times reports. The president called patients' rights legislation "one of his three priorities" before the August congressional recess. "The Congress must act on a patients' bill of rights -- a good patients' bill of rights, one that recognizes patients are important, not lawyers," Bush said during a Rose Garden ceremony yesterday, adding that he would support a bill that "encourages quality health care without encouraging frivolous and junk lawsuits that will threaten the very existence of an important health care policy in America." Bush has threatened to veto the patients' rights bill (S 1052) sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.), which the Senate passed last month (Bruni, New York Times, 7/10). Under the bill, patients could sue HMOs in state court for denial of benefits or quality of care issues and in federal court for non-quality of care issues. The legislation would cap damages awarded in federal court at $5 million, but state courts could award as much in damages as the state allows. Bush offered no "sign of backing away" from his veto threat(Koffler/Earle, CongressDaily, 7/9). White House officials said that Bush's "reservations" about the legislation and his veto threat "were still real" (New York Times, 7/10). Bush said, "I urge Congress to bring a reasonable bill to my desk" (Sobieraj, AP/Nando Times, 7/10).
Bush supports a House patients' rights bill (HR 2315) sponsored by Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) (Curl, Washington Times, 7/10). Under the bill, patients could sue health plans in federal court for quality of care issues and non-quality of care issues, such as those involving violations of their health plan's contract. Patients could only sue in state court in cases where health plans refused to abide by decisions made by outside appeals panels. The bill would cap non-economic damages in federal court at $500,000, but state courts could award as much money in damages as the state allows. The bill would prohibit punitive damages. The president's address yesterday "kicked off a concerted" effort to buoy the Fletcher bill, CongressDaily reports. Bush will host a group of doctors at the White House tomorrow and meet with House lawmakers to "push" for the legislation (CongressDaily, 7/9). White House officials say they hope that Bush can begin "reclaiming control" of the political agenda from Senate Democrats, who "forced" the patients' rights issue "onto his plate" (Fournier,
AP/Salt Lake Tribune, 7/10). Bush hopes to "build public pressure" against the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill while he and administration officials "work to make sure" that the House passes legislation "he could sign with a smile."
Bush yesterday placed "emphasis on how much he wanted a patients' bill of rights, not how much he did not want the one that emerged from the Senate," the New York Times reports. According to the Times, many voters "know little about the divergent details" of different patients' rights bills, but they "like the general sound of such a bill." Bush "would clearly like to be seen as a champion" of the legislation, and some political analysts predict that he "might well be compelled to sign any version that reaches his desk" (New York Times, 7/10).
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Meanwhile, the American Medical Association yesterday called for "swift" passage of the House version (HR 526) of the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill, sponsored by Reps. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Greg Ganske (R-Iowa). The AMA has urged the group's 300,000 physician members to oppose the Fletcher bill, which, according to AMA Secretary-Treasurer Dr. Donald Palmisano, "would remove state law and nullify accountability and court decisions ... permitting injured patients to hold HMOs responsible for negligent medical decisions in state courts." He called the legislation "a step backwards because it would remove rights patients now have in nine states that have already passed patient-protection plans" (Archibald, Washington Times, 7/10).