MANAGED CARE REFORM: Bipartisan Support Grows In Congress
Forced into action by angry constituents, many conservative Republicans have joined in on calls for managed care reform and patients' rights. This new "bipartisan consensus" could yield legislation by the end of the year, the New York Times reports. Recently, "many Republican lawmakers say they have been inundated with consumers' complaints about" HMOs, and many "say they are now willing to authorize some federal regulation of the industry." Eighty Republicans have already signed on to the Patient Access To Responsible Care Act, authored by conservative Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA). Rep. Michael Forbes (R-NY) said, "This is an issue we will ignore at our peril, come November." Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) agreed: "This is perhaps the most important health issue before the public today, the almost obscene indifference of for-profit health plans to their patients. ... We must respond to the overwhelming public demand for patient protection." Despite the protestations of businesses and HMOs, there is "now a broad bipartisan consensus for legislation" to: require health plans to pay for reasonable emergency care; allow patients to "appeal denials of coverage to an independent, impartial reviewer outside their health plan"; permit doctors to discuss all treatment options with patients, regardless of cost; and force HMOs to release performance and consumer satisfaction data so that consumers may compare plans.
Now, The Hard Part
The Times notes that however broad the consensus, "the details of such legislation have caused sharp disagreements inside the Republican party." While the aforementioned Norwood bill enjoys widespread support, "a group of 12 Republicans working under the auspices of Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is drafting" an alternate bill. Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who is heading the group, says he will have a bill ready by the end of the month. However, the effort is already not sitting well with Senate Republicans. Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK) "has repeatedly expressed concern that 'patient protection' bills may increase the cost of health benefits and that employers might then cut back coverage and leave more people uninsured." As an alternative, House Commerce Committee Chair Thomas Bliley Jr. (R-VA) "wants to create 'health marts' to offer insurance to self-employed people and businesses with fewer than 500 employees" (Pear, 5/11).