HMO REFORM: Senate Could See Action This Month
Senate Democrats and Republicans are circling warily on managed care reform, with Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) announcing yesterday that he wants to bring legislation to the floor this month if both parties can agree to limits on debate and amendments. Democrats countered that they will not wait long before attaching their "Patients' Bill of Rights" to other legislation, a move that could trigger untold partisan squabbling. The Republican managed care reform bill authored by the Senate GOP Health Care Task Force has been stymied by Senate Finance Committee member John Chafee (R-RI), who opposes the measure's medical savings account provisions and other tax incentives. Due to his opposition, Lott conceded yesterday that the bill will probably proceed to the floor without Finance Committee approval. CongressDaily/A.M. reports that Lott has named Majority Whip Don Nickles (D-OK) to negotiate with the Democrats, who are unlikely to cede much ground on an issue that is near the top of their agenda.
On a parallel track is a "narrow managed care reform proposal" from Senate Finance Chair William Roth (R-DE), who is seeking to advance a bill that would create "a timely, fair and independent dispute resolution process" that would remove the need for the "prescriptive access provisions" in the Democratic bill, according to a Senate aide. After reports that talks between Roth and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) had broken down, Roth is reportedly "shopping" his proposal to other Democrats. CongressDaily reports that Roth believes the internal and external review provisions in the main Republican bill, sponsored by Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Chair Jim Jeffords (R-VT), "create too many requirements on health plans that would not benefit patients, while triggering several regulatory barriers to resolving disputes." CongressDaily reports that Roth may not find many takers among Democrats, who "still are looking to move a more comprehensive managed care bill that will more clearly spell out the rights of patients and their health plans" (Morrissey/Rovner, 6/9).