COLLECTIVE BARGAINING: Bill Failing to Get Senate Support
Few senators "appear eager to champion" the right of physicians to bargain collectively with HMOs, unlike their House counterparts who passed such a bill late last month, CongressDaily/A.M. reports. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.), would grant physicians an antitrust exemption to bargain collectively with managed care companies. Last month, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said he would not push the bill to a vote. But lobbyists for both sides of the issue "are not dropping their efforts, in case the Senate finds time to squeeze in a vote this year." The bill's proponents say it would allow doctors and other providers to negotiate for better patient care. Opponents have argued that the bill would drive up health care costs and "enrich physicians." While some Republicans might support the bill to "revive some of their traditional alliances with medical groups," American Association of Health Plans Vice President Mark Merritt said that other senators believe "the price is too high." Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), for example, called the bill "an extreme solution to only part of the problem of the balance of power in health care." He added, "The fact that this had become an issue is a symptom of a larger problem -- insurance companies have too much control. Instead of radical solutions, we should focus on passing a strong patients' bill of rights that strengthens the physician- patient relationship." The American Medical Association backs the Campbell bill, claiming it "would keep costs down because care would improve and lawsuits would decline." Donald Palmisano, AMA Board of Trustees Executive Committee member, said, "The bill ought to be judged by its own merits, not by AMA's support for other bills, such as the patients' bill of rights." Despite the apparent lack of senatorial support, Campbell said he remains optimistic, hoping the bill is at least introduced and undergoes a hearing before the end of the session. Campbell's spokesperson said the lawmaker is "confident" a senator will step forward to sponsor the bill (Fulton, 7/11).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.