MANAGED CARE REFORM: Businesses Voice Opposition
Business leaders appearing before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee yesterday said they would "oppose any effort this year" to enact protections for health plan enrollees, the Hartford Courant reports. Mark Waskow, representing the "politically powerful" National Federation of Independent Business, testified that new federal mandates would "drive up health care premiums" and "cause many small business owners to drop their health plans altogether" (MacDonald, 3/25). Referring to the Health Care Quality, Education, Security and Trust Act sponsored by Sens. Jim Jeffords (R-VT) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Waskow said, "I agree with many of the findings in the legislation suggest[ing] that the quality of health care and its delivery can be improved. But I have serious concerns about the way the bill achieves these goals" (NFIB release, 3/24). The Courant reports that the Health Benefits Coalition said earlier this year "it was willing to spend at least $1 million" to defeat the proposals (3/25). According to a study conducted by the NFIB's Education Foundation, government mandates can increase the cost of insurance premiums by up to 30% (NFIB release, 3/24). "The solid business opposition" to the Jeffords-Lieberman measure, the Courant reports, "means that it will be harder for the Republican-controlled Congress to enact any consumer-protection legislation."
To Sue Or Not To Sue
A separate managed care reform bill, Rep. Charlie Norwood's (R-GA) Patient Access to Responsible Care Act (PARCA), contains a provision that would allow consumers to sue their health plans, a proposal "some analysts believe may be the key barrier to passing [any] legislation this year." However, the Jeffords-Lieberman QUEST bill merely provides "a process for independent reviews when health care is denied." Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the committee's ranking Democrat, "did not specifically endorse" the QUEST bill at yesterday's hearing, but "in listing what consumer protection legislation should contain," he "omitted any mention of allowing consumers to file lawsuits," the Courant notes.
Despite business opposition, Jeffords yesterday said "he intends to push ahead." He said, "Americans are concerned that managed care only manages cost and denies care. Congress cannot ignore or dismiss these concerns and requests." According to the Courant, the business coalition is opposed to "all consumer protection legislation" because businesses believe "the lawsuit provision" could be amended to a bill at the last minute (3/25). And while Norwood's PARCA bill "isn't likely to pass in its current form," the Wall Street Journal reports that a coalition of "nonphysician providers" supporting the measure "has nonetheless scored a big victory." The PARCA Alliance, "a lobbying army of 70 groups ... who often find themselves excluded from managed care plans," has scored "by keeping the managed care debate at a boil and countering a well-financed offensive by health plans and employers." As Ann Combs, a William M. Mercer Inc. principal, said, "The coalition 'has kept the issue squarely in front of the public.'" The Journal notes their success "increases the chances that some sort of managed care legislation will pass this year, even if it is more limited" (McGinley, 3/25).
Rep. Charles Bass (R-NH) last week became the 227th member of the House to cosponsor PARCA. "The momentum behind the bill now appears to be unstoppable," said Norwood (release, 3/20). Of these 227 cosponsors, almost 100 are Republicans, the Journal notes (3/25).