Norwood Set to Back Kennedy-McCain Patients’ Rights
In a "blow" to President Bush, Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), a key supporter of patients' rights legislation in past years, plans to announce today support for a bill favored by Democrats, the New York Times reports. Senate Democrats plan to open debate on the issue next week. Earlier this year, Norwood withdrew support from a bill (S 283) sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) in order to allow President Bush to "place his own stamp on the issue," but after months of negotiations, he decided "it was time for him to take a stand" behind the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards measure, Norwood spokesperson John Stone said (Mitchell, New York Times, 6/13). Norwood "grew frustrated" with White House "resistance" to a provision in the bill that would allow patients to sue HMOs and insurers in state court, a source said (McQueen, AP/Nando Times, 6/12). Under the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards 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. The legislation would cap damages awarded in federal court at $5 million, but state courts could award as much money in damages as the state allows. Norwood said, "[W]e're going to get enough votes to pass" the Kennedy-Mccain-Edwards bill (Welch, USA Today, 6/13). Although Stone said that Norwood would still discuss the issue with Bush, he added that the time for compromise "may be over." Stone said, "Norwood has to move now that the bill is coming up in the Senate" (Malone, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/13).
Bush has said he supports rival legislation (S 889) sponsored by Sens. John Breaux (D-La.), Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) and said he would veto the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill (New York Times, 6/13). Under the Breaux-Frist-Jeffords bill, patients with private health insurance could sue health plans after exhausting an appeals process by an outside review panel. Patients could only sue health plans in federal court, not state court, with damage awards capped at $500,000. Norwood "vehemently opposes" the measure (Rovner/Fulton, CongressDaily/AM, 6/13). White House spokesperson Claire Buchanan said that Bush still hopes Congress will pass a bill that he can support (USA Today, 6/13). According to the New York Times, Norwood's position will have "no direct effect" on the Senate debate, but he "lends credence" to Democrats' argument that they have "put forward centrist legislation." Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said, "This is a critical piece of legislation, and after five years, it's long overdue" (New York Times, 6/13). Kennedy welcomed Norwood's support for the bill. "Everyone in Congress knows his leadership has made a huge difference on the issue," he said, adding, "His courageous action makes it less likely that President Bush will dare to veto this sensible bill." Democratic leaders "contend" that they have the votes to "ward off" efforts to delay or kill the bill. Still, McCain said, "The last thing I want to have is a bill that the president would veto on this issue" (AP/Nando Times, 6/12).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.