Congress Should Not Override State Patients’ Rights Laws, Boston Globe Writes
Congress should pass patients' rights legislation that does not overturn "stronger laws that states already have on their books," according to a Boston Globe editorial (Boston Globe, 2/3). The Senate last year passed a patients' rights bill that would have allowed patients to sue HMOs in state court -- which often awards larger damages than federal 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 would permit state courts to award as much in damages as states allow. However, a rival bill passed in the House last year would only allow patients to sue health plans in state court for non-economic damages up to $1.5 million. In addition, the legislation would allow courts to award patients up to $1.5 million in punitive damages, but only in cases where patients won complaints against health plans before an outside appeals panel and an HMO still refused to provide care (California Healthline, 1/10). Aides to President Bush, who supports the House bill, have met several times with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), co-sponsor of the Senate bill, to discuss a compromise (Pear, New York Times, 1/23). The editorial says that the House bill would "make the federal law preempt more comprehensive laws in the states." The editorial concludes, "A federal law that establishes" a right to sue health plans for denials of care "without trumping solid state patients' rights laws should be the goal of both the White House and advocates for patients' rights like Kennedy" (Boston Globe, 2/3).
Meanwhile, according to a Nashville Tennessean editorial, although Bush and Kennedy "are commended for their negotiation efforts" on patient's rights legislation, "other aspects of health care policy have gone to hell." The editorial points out that patients' rights represents only a "teeny piece of a federal health care puzzle that is getting more complex and more expensive each day." Many Americans have lost their employment, as well as their health insurance, in the past year, while many employers have reduced or dropped health coverage for employees, according to the editorial. In addition, the editorial points out that the increase in the number of unemployed workers will "drive up both the need and the expense of Medicaid, which is already bankrupting many states." The editorial adds that as baby boomers begin to retire, they will place "more demands" on Medicare, which "doesn't include the most basic necessity of modern medicine -- prescription drug coverage." Although Americans "deserve" a federal patient's rights law, the editorial concludes that "more than anything, Congress needs to pass this bill and move on to other health care issues. If the system is left on autopilot much longer, the nation will have a system where health care will be only a perk of privilege" (Nashville Tennessean, 2/4).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.