Norwood Has ‘Second Thoughts’ About Patients’ Rights Deal
Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Ga.) has "signaled second thoughts" about the deal he made with President Bush to push the patients' rights bill (HR 2563) through the House, CongressDaily/AM reports (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 9/7). Under the compromise, included as an amendment to a bill that Norwood had previously co-sponsored with Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Greg Ganske (R-Iowa), patients could sue health plans in state court under a new set of federal rules that would cap non-economic damage awards at $1.5 million. Courts could also award patients up to $1.5 million in punitive damages, but only in cases where patients win complaints against health plans before an outside appeals panel and an HMO "still persists in refusing the care they need." In addition, patients could sue health plans after an outside review panel rejects their complaints, but lawsuits in those cases would "have a much higher burden of proof to overcome." The amendment would allow patients to sue large employers that administer their own health plans over health care disputes in federal court, not state courts (California Healthline, 8/2). "There is a definite need for technical corrections and improvements in the amendment I sponsored in the House," Norwood said in a statement released Thursday, responding "for the first time to the torrent of criticism his former allies have heaped on the deal." Specifically, he said he was "not satisfied with the amendment's language that seeks to preserve existing state laws" that permit HMO members to sue their health plans. In addition, Norwood suggested making it "easier" to prove that a health plan is linked to an injury, saying the standard should be changed from the health plan as "the proximate cause" of the injury to "a proximate cause." Norwood spokesperson John Stone said, "There's been a ton of criticism that's been voiced about the amendment -- and we agree. The goal here is that we don't pre-empt state law, that we provide a remedy for people who can't use state law."
Meanwhile, the House on Wednesday sent the patients' rights bill it passed back to the Senate, giving that chamber "formal responsibility to seek a conference" to reconcile the House bill with its Senate-passed counterpart (S 1052). Majority Leader Tom Daschle's (D-S.D.) aides said he has not yet decided when to proceed. In addition, there is the "unanswered question" of who will chair the conference. Then-Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.) chaired a conference that last year failed to resolve differences between House and Senate patients' rights legislation, giving the House an argument to chair the conference this year. A spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said, "I think [the House] will. [The Senate] had the last one." If the chair position goes to the House, Energy and Commerce Chair Billy Tauzin (R-La.), Education and Workforce Chair John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Ways and Means Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) are the choices, CongressDaily/AM reports. But others say that Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) should chair the conference (CongressDaily/AM, 9/7).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.