Norwood’s Patients’ Rights Move Spurs Other Republicans
As expected, Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), a key supporter of patients' rights legislation in past years, "broke ranks" with President Bush yesterday and promised to "push for passage" of a bill favored by Democrats, Reuters/Washington Times reports. The move "bolstered prospects" for the bill (S 283), sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.), which would provide patients with an "unprecedented right" to sue health plans (Reuters/Washington Times, 6/14). 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. Senate Democratic leaders plan to bring the bill, which Bush has threatened to veto, to the floor next week. Norwood called Kennedy-McCain-Edwards "the only bill that guarantees a patient will find justice if they are injured or killed" (Barfield, Newsday, 6/14). Earlier this year, Norwood withdrew support from the legislation in order to allow 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. 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 (American Health Line, 6/13). Still, Norwood said, "I do not consider ... negotiations [with the White House] failed or finished. They have just moved to a different level" (Newsday, 6/14).
According to CongressDaily, Norwood's announcement "signals a hardening of the lines" over patients' rights legislation (Rovner, CongressDaily, 6/13). Norwood said that his decision would likely "pull other Republicans" to the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill (Kelley, Omaha World-Herald, 6/14). He added that "getting the backing" of Republicans may "help persuade the White House to see things differently." He said, "To quote Al Capone, 'when you negotiate with a soft voice and a loaded gun, it's better than negotiating with a soft voice.'" Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) has already "follow[ed] Norwood's lead" and announced support for the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards measure (CongressDaily, 6/13). In addition, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports that several House Republicans "bucked White House opposition" to the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill and announced their support for the legislation. "We've got to stop these HMOs from practicing bottom-line medicine," Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) said, adding, "If we don't pass this, or the president doesn't sign it, there's going to be a voter backlash out there" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 6/14). Norwood predicted that the House version of the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill (HR 526), backed by Reps. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa), John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Norwood, would "get enough [votes] to win" despite objections from GOP leaders (CongressDaily, 6/13). In addition, McCain said Wednesday that Democrats would allow "unlimited amendments and an open debate" on the bill. "The impression I get is that Republicans are not interested in filibustering," he said, adding that "he was optimistic" that the debate would "unearth common ground" (Rovner/Earle, CongressDaily/AM, 6/14).