PATIENTS BILL OF RIGHTS: Clinton Threatens Veto
President Clinton yesterday took to the road to muster support for the Democratic Party's patients' bill of rights, touting its provision that allows patients to sue HMOS and promising to veto the Republican Party's patients' rights measure. "We need a bill of rights, not a bill of goods," Clinton said. "We need a law, not another loophole. If I get that other bill of rights, I will be forced to veto it, and I will." The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Clinton assailed the GOP bill that he said would "not allow patients access to specialists ... prohibit patients from suing HMOS and managed care plans for denied or delayed care... only add new rights for people in self-insured insurance plans [and] allow patients to lose their doctors if they or their employers change health care plans" (Thomma, 8/11). Speaking before Clinton, Sen. Wendell Ford (D-KY) criticized the GOP bill's narrow scope. "When the Republicans leave out millions of Americans, you wouldn't call it reform," he said. "You call it retreat -- retreat from access to specialists, retreat from access to fair recourse for patients who have been treated unfairly" (Jennison, Owensburo Messenger-Inquirer, 8/11). The AP/Baltimore Sun reports that Clinton "heaped scorn on the GOP's approach," saying, "For nine months, the leadership of the majority party in Congress has resisted taking any action at all." Only when an "'overwhelming grass-roots consensus' on the need for stronger patient protections" surfaced did the GOP take action, Clinton charged (8/11). The Washington Times reports that Clinton likened the GOP bills to "amending the Bill of Rights 'so that no one can ever sue to enforce the right to free speech, free assembly, free practice of religion, or any other of the rights that have kept our country strong for 220 years."
We're Soooo Scared
"Republicans dismissed Mr. Clinton's veto threat," the Times reports. A spokesman for Rep. Dennis Hastert (IL), chair of the GOP health care task force, said, "Republicans will keep fighting in this Congress to move a bill that makes sure that patients receive care when they need it most, in doctors' offices and hospital rooms, instead of lawyers' offices and courtrooms" (Goldreich, 8/11).
Today's Washington Post reports that Clinton's health care reform effort "borrows heavily from the painful lessons of his first term," in which his "cherished" Health Security Act died an ignoble death. That ghost, the Post reports, "hovers over the current patients' rights debate, guiding the strategies of both political parties and shaping what the issue's fate ultimately will be." Clinton's stance has been informed by the knowledge that "[e]ven when Americans claim to be eager for aggressive health reforms ... they are in reality comfortable with government making only marginal turns of the screw." Thus, he is not attempting to promise health coverage for nation's 41 million uninsured, nor trying to rein in rising health costs. On the other hand, Republicans, who fought Clinton tooth and nail in 1994 over health reform, have now "embraced patients' rights on their own terms, designing bills that would regulate health insurance, but to a lesser degree than Democratic versions" (Goldstein/Neal/Harris, 8/11).