PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: AMA Pressures Gorton to Support Bill
The American Medical Association launched a campaign yesterday in Seattle to encourage Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) to cast a swing vote in favor of a patients' bill of rights that would allow patients to sue their HMOs, the Seattle Times reports. In an ad in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the AMA says that Gorton could "make history" by voting in favor of the measure, adding that he has the "opportunity to deliver long-overdue protections to the patients of Washington and across the country." AMA President-Elect Dr. Richard Corlin said the association is pressuring Gorton because the senator has "expressed interest in passing some form of a patients' bill of rights" and also represents a state that has passed its own version of the measure (Searcey, 6/28). Trying to drum up support among Washington physicians in Seattle Tuesday, Corlin said, "We are one vote away from passing real patient protection, and Sen. Gorton could be that vote. Gorton has a long track record of being intelligent, caring about the needs of his constituents and being pragmatic rather than ideologically rooted in his decisions" (Blumenthal, Tacoma News Tribune, 6/28). Corlin added that Gorton "needs the issue for his re-election campaign," as his Democratic opponents, Washington state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn and former Rep. Maria Cantwell, both have made support of patients' rights one of their key issues heading into the fall elections (Seattle Times, 6/28).
Gorton has said that he would oppose any legislation that did not have "at least some" restrictions on allowing patients to sue their HMOs. Gorton spokesperson Cynthia Bergman said that the senator is concerned that without some limits, "what we will have is patients clogging the courtrooms and lining the pockets of trial lawyers." Gorton also believes that any patients' rights bill should contain restrictions on medical malpractice lawsuits -- a position that concerns Corlin. While the AMA has long advocated malpractice reform, Corlin said, making such reform part of the patients' rights bill could "doom" it. He added, "Nobody is more desirous of tort reform than we are, but attaching it to this vehicle will not allow it to pass" (Tacoma News Tribune, 6/28). The AMA also is targeting a "handful of Republican senators in Missouri and Michigan" as possible swing votes (Seattle Times, 6/28).