House GOP Leaders May Delay Patients’ Rights Vote
House Republican leaders may delay a vote on patients' rights legislation scheduled for tomorrow until next week, hoping to build support for a bill backed by the White House, the Washington Times reports. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said that House GOP leaders have urged President Bush to "pressure reluctant Republicans" to support a bill (HR 2315) sponsored by Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) (Archibald, Washington Times, 7/25). Under the bill, patients could sue health plans in federal court for quality of care issues and non-quality of care issues, but could only sue in state court in cases where health plans refused to abide by decisions made by outside appeals panels. The bill would cap non-economic damages in federal court at $500,000, but state courts could award as much money in damages as the state allows. The bill would prohibit punitive damages. Republican leaders "apparently still lack a majority" of support for the bill and hope Bush can "twist enough arms to put them over the top" (Rovner et al., CongressDaily/AM, 7/25). Armey said that House GOP leaders may delay a vote "if the Fletcher bill does not have a clear majority" of support (Washington Times, 7/25). Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who helped draft the bill, said that holding a vote this week "would be ambitious."
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A "vast majority" of House Democrats and about 12 Republicans back a rival bill (HR 2563), sponsored by Reps. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa), John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), similar to legislation passed last month in the Senate, CongressDaily/AM reports (CongressDaily/AM, 7/25). The Ganske-Dingell-Norwood bill would allow patients to 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 their health plan's contract. The legislation would cap damages awarded in federal court at $5 million, but state courts could award as much in damages as the state allows. Ganske said that he "had commitments" from "all but a few" Democrats and about 20 Republicans (Washington Times, 7/25). According to rumors, House GOP leaders have offered 10 GOP co-sponsors of Ganske-Dingell-Norwood a "major federal project" in their districts in exchange for support for the Fletcher bill, CongressDaily/AM reports (CongressDaily/AM, 7/25). On Tuesday, Fletcher held a press conference with HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to announce that after "behind-scenes arm-twisting," Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who voted for a bill similar to Ganske-Dingell-Norwood in 1999, would support the Fletcher measure (Washington Times, 7/25). Bush plans to meet with a group of 10 to 15 House Republicans today and will likely deliver a public address on the Fletcher bill sometime this week. Bush aides have met "quietly" with Norwood, which may "signal that privately, Bush is less rigidly committed" to the Fletcher bill than he has "publicly indicated" and may consider a compromise, CongressDaily/AM reports (CongressDaily/AM, 7/25).