HMO POLITICS: MD Governor To Propose ‘Bill Of Rights’
Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening (D) is making HMO reform "a priority" as he campaigns for a second term, the Baltimore Sun reports. Today, Glendening is scheduled to announce a six-part legislative program, or "bill of rights," to be added to the "nationally acclaimed patient protections passed by the Maryland Legislature." Glendening spokesperson Peter Hamm said, "There have been a lot of growing pains for the managed care industry. The governor felt this is an area, especially in context of the national debate, where he should share his thoughts with the public." Specifically, Glendening's proposals include: allowing patients to see doctors outside of a network if they are willing to pay extra; allowing specialists who treat severe illnesses to also provide routine care; establishing standing referrals; requiring minimum hospital stays after certain procedures; forcing insurers to pay for prescription drugs "instead of providing substitutes" and establishing an ombudsman office to field complaints and provide information to consumers. "I think the governor is covering several areas of consumer concerns that have not yet been addressed. And I applaud him for that," said state House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr. (D). Taylor warned, however, that "all of us have to be very careful in the way we balance consumer concerns in order to maintain the basic value of managed care, which is affordability."
Dollars And (Political) Sense
Indeed, the managed care lobby insists that such reforms will drive up costs (Daemmrich, 7/21). Gerard Evans, spokesperson for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maryland, said, "There is dissatisfaction out there. But any time you tinker with the health care system you're adding costs. We're going back to a system where health care is limited." But Joseph Schwartz, lobbyist for the Maryland Medical Society, said, "It's a great step forward. This is probably a good starting point, but probably not the ending point" (Babington/Pierre, Washington Post, 7/21). The HMO lobby also accused Glendening of seizing on the issue for political gain in an election year. "It's a hot button we frankly expected him to push," said Evans. The governor's chief Democratic opponent, Eileen Rehrmann, proposed "subjecting HMO directors to the same discipline as doctors" and creating a patient advocacy office (Baltimore Sun, 7/21).
The two candidates for Kentucky's open U.S. Senate seat, Rep. Scotty Baesler (D) and Rep. Jim Bunning (R), "sparred yesterday over" HMO reforms pending in Congress. Baesler asked Bunning to sign onto the Democrat-backed Patients' Bill of Rights Act and criticized him for withdrawing his sponsorship of Rep. Charlie Norwood's (R-GA) Patient Access to Responsible Care Act. "It's a basic issue of this campaign. Are you going to go with insurance companies or with the people?" Baesler asked. In a release, Bunning responded that he believes Norwood's PARCA and the Democrats' Bill of Rights would drive up costs and lead to lawsuits. Bunning noted his support for the House Republican Task Force's Patient Protection Act (Fernandez, Lexington Herald-Leader, 7/21).