House Republican Leaders Delay Vote on Patients’ Rights
House Republican leaders, hoping to "head off a political defeat," yesterday postponed a vote scheduled for today on patients' rights legislation, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), GOP leaders may delay the vote until next week and possibly after the August recess to allow President Bush to "build support" for the bill (HR 2315) favored by the House GOP leadership, sponsored by Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) (Miller/Hook, Los Angeles Times, 7/26). 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 legislation would prohibit punitive damages. GOP leaders said that they would postpone the vote "until they had the votes" to pass the Fletcher bill, adding that "as of [yesterday] ... they clearly did not" (Pear, New York Times, 7/26). Although Hastert said that the House may vote on patients' rights legislation next week, other GOP leaders said that "it was unlikely the bill would resurface" before September (Welch, USA Today, 7/26).
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Most House Democrats and "at least 11" Republicans support 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. Bush has threatened to veto both bills (Malone, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 7/26). Under the Ganske-Dingell-Norwood 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 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. House GOP leaders "insisted" that "they were making progress" in efforts to "draw" supporters to the Fletcher bill. But Norwood spokesperson John Stone said, "They're not going to get those last 10 votes; it's over" (Hosler, Baltimore Sun, 7/26). Ganske said that the delay "indicates that, despite the fact they're breaking arms, they don't have the votes" (New York Times, 7/26).