Edwards Criticizes Breaux-Frist Draft of Patients’ Rights
Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) "lashed out" yesterday against a draft of patients' rights legislation sponsored by Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and John Breaux (D-La.), saying the measure "appears to be an HMO bill of rights," CongressDaily/A.M. reports. Edwards, who is sponsoring competing patients' rights legislation with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), said the Breaux-Frist bill is "not about patients' rights" but is rather an attempt "to find some way of stopping the groundswell of support for" the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 3/14). The draft of Breaux-Frist, called the "Bipartisan Patients' Bill of Rights of 2001," would guarantee access to specialists, emergency care and hospital stays and would give patients a limited federal right to sue their health plans, but it would place stricter limits on lawsuits than the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill. Patients would need to exhaust an independent external review process, unless the case proves "futile," before suing health plans in court. The bill would place a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages and allow unlimited economic damages. Under the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards 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, such as those involving violations of health plan contracts. That bill would cap civil assessments awarded in federal court at $5 million, but state courts could award as much in damages as state laws allows.
Noting that "virtually" all cases would be tried in federal court under Breaux-Frist, Edwards said, "It's a terrible idea. [Federal courts] don't have the resources to handle these cases." Edwards also criticized the "huge loophole" in Breaux-Frist that would allow states to "opt out" of the new law if the legislation would raise costs by more than 2%, if the state has equivalent protections or if only a small percentage of the state's population is in managed care. Defending his bill as a "work in progress," Frist said that he is discussing the legislation with "as many people as I can who have been intimately involved in the process in the last two years." He added that President Bush agrees with the notion that "most cases" should be tried in federal court. Frist said "he is biding his time" before introducing a formal version of the bill, noting, "The American people want a strong, enforceable patients' bill of rights. They're not demanding that it be passed this week or next week" (CongressDaily/A.M., 3/14).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.