Bush, Norwood Move Closer to Patients’ Rights Deal
Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) has moved closer to a compromise with the White House on patients' rights legislation, which could trigger a House vote on the issue this week, the New York Times reports. During a telephone call yesterday, President Bush urged Norwood to "behave like a Republican" and "align with the White House" on patients' rights, a GOP source said. Norwood and Reps. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) have sponsored a patients' rights bill (HR 2563) supported by most House Democrats and a number of Republicans (Pear, New York Times, 7/31). The legislation 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. In addition, 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 has threatened to veto the bill, a similar version of which passed the Senate in late June, saying that the legislation would drive up health care costs by funneling lawsuits against health plans into state courts, "generally considered more favorable to plaintiffs" than federal courts. Bush backs a rival bill (HR 2315) sponsored by Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) (Miller, Los Angeles Times, 7/19). Under the Fletcher bill, patients could sue health plans in federal court for quality of care issues and non-quality of care issues, but 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. It would prohibit punitive damages.
Bush and Norwood are reportedly discussing a proposal that would allow patients to sue HMOs in state court "as long as the suits were tried under a single federal standard." The proposal would allow state court suits "in cases where the health plan exercises medical judgment." Norwood spokesperson John Stone said, "We feel that we are within striking distance of a deal" (New York Times, 7/31). Bush yesterday "pressed Norwood in highly personal terms" to compromise on Ganske-Dingell-Norwood "so Republicans could support it" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/30). According to the New York Times, a compromise "could swing many Republicans" to support the legislation and "avert an embarrassment" for Bush, who does not have the votes to defeat the bill in the House (New York Times, 7/31). However, Ganske and Dingell did not share Norwood's "optimism" about a potential compromise with the White House, adding that "they were not aware of any new developments" in negotiations (Los Angeles Times, 7/31). Ganske said that the compromise could "wipe out rights" that patients had won from state courts and legislatures in recent years (New York Times, 7/31). Some House Democrats have "quietly expressed concern" that Norwood will "abandon his co-sponsors and cut a separate deal" with Bush, although Stone said that Norwood would "not jeopardize his alliance" with Ganske and Dingell (Los Angeles Times, 7/31). Some House Republicans said that Dingell and other Democrats will likely agree to a compromise (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.