New Patients’ Rights Bill Has Administration Support
Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), with support from Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and James Jeffords (R-Vt.), today will introduce a new bipartisan patients' rights bill endorsed by President Bush that would "safeguard patients without unleashing excessive lawsuits or undermining states that have adopted similar protections," the Washington Post reports. The new bill puts two constraints on managed care lawsuits -- "in most cases," the bill would require patients to first bring their complaints to a new outside review panel, and patients would be allowed to sue only if the panel "rejected" their complaint. In addition, the legislation would not "expand" patients' rights to sue in state court, but would allow patients to win more money in federal court -- an "unlimited sum" in economic damages and up to $500,000 in "other injuries." The new bill also "omits" exemptions that would allow states to "skirt" the federal law (Goldstein, Washington Post, 5/15). These constraints "generally follo[w]" principals for patients rights' legislation set forth by Bush earlier this year, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 5/15).
The new bill, however, stands in "contrast" to the patients rights bill (S 283) sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) that Bush "rejected immediately." Unlike the Frist bill, the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards measure would allow patients more flexibility to sue in state courts and to win up to $5 million in penalties. But the Frist and McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bills are similar in "less controversial areas," including emergency room treatment coverage, prescription drug access and access to obstetrician/gynecologists without prior approval. Although Bush favors the Frist bill, it "remains unclear" whether Senate Republican leaders, "who have resisted any expansion of lawsuits against health plans," or Democrats and House Republicans, "many of whom" have voted for more expansive rights, will support the bill (Washington Post, 5/15). But the new bill's sponsors say it represents a "truer" compromise than previous proposals. "My hope is that this bill encourages both sides to leave their entrenched, intransigent position and come to the middle," Frist said, adding, "This bill is aimed to achieve balance in terms of liability and scope" (Washington Post, 5/15).
Meanwhile, Edwards and McCain are "frustrated" that White House officials "won't sit down and discuss ... reservations about" their bill, McClatchy Newspapers/Washington Times reports. In a recent interview, Edwards said, "Up until now, we've seen no indications they're interested." Because of the "lack of dialogue" on the bill, McCain and Edwards are trying a "new strategy," McClatchy/Times reports (Wagner, McClatchy Newspapers/Washington Times, 5/14). McCain -- who "has vowed all year to force a vote on [his] measure by Memorial Day" -- last Wednesday filed the bill as a "potential amendment to the education bill currently under debate in the Senate" (American Health Line, 5/11). CongressDaily reports that the debate could come as early as this week on the Senate floor if McCain pushes the amendment (Fulton, CongressDaily, 5/14). McCain and Edwards hope this effort "quickly" lands the bill on Bush's desk, forcing Bush to "[e]mbrace it or veto it." Edwards said, "I think the president needs to decide where he stands on this thing: whether he stands with the big HMOs or whether he stands with patients and families" (McClatchy Newspapers/Washington Times, 5/14). However, if McCain successfully pushes the amendment, Frist may also present his bill as a "second-degree amendment," sources say (CongressDaily, 5/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.