PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Are Parties Moving Toward Compromise?
Managed care reform was once again a top issue on the Sunday political talk shows, and this week members of both parties hinted that a compromise is possible. Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) reiterated his opposition to granting patients the right to sue their health plans. However, when asked whether he was ruling out including the right to sue in any final bill, Lott replied: "I don't think I should start at the beginning of the day saying absolutely what the final contours would be. I'm opposed to that. I think it's a mistake. I think the resolution is through the appeals process. But I'm not going to start now, like [the] administration would do, by saying it's my way or no way. Let's see how it works."
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala also hinted at compromise in an appearance on the same show. Asked if the right to sue must be in the final bill, Shalala said: "Here's what we have said. We have said that these rights ought to be enforceable. And the right to sue is one way of doing that. And we have said that we'll look at other alternatives to that. But they must be enforceable. It does no good to give people rights unless there are remedies" ("Fox News Sunday," 7/19).
Still Sounding Tough
In separate weekend appearances, President Clinton and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) maintained their opposition to the GOP approach to managed care reform. Speaking Saturday at a Democratic Party meeting in Arkansas, Clinton said "the fact is that the Democrats ... are for a strong patients' bill of rights and the leadership of the other party are opposing it." He talked about some patients' problems with HMOs: "You've been seeing all the press we're getting in Washington. ... We're bringing in all of these people; we're talking about the horror stories, all the doctors pleading and pleading and pleading with the insurance companies, do this procedure, that procedure, the other procedure. They [HMOs] take 90 days or 180 days. The time the procedure gets approved, it's too late, and the people die" (read the full transcript).
Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Sen. Kennedy said Democrats want a strong bill: "[W]e're not prepared to see some kind of fig leaf of a bill. A bill that just has the title of a Patients' Bill of Rights. A toothless bill that doesn't provide the protections. And the right to sue is ... a very, very important aspect of it, but ultimately we're going to have to take a look and find out whether we have really provided legislation that is going to meet the kinds of health care concerns that families are affected by."
Also appearing on "This Week," Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) chided Democrats for their apparent change of face on the HMO liability issue. "[I]n the Clinton health care bill that we were debating four years ago, there were very strict limits on suing -- on medical liability. So, we have seen a dramatic shift from the program when Senator Kennedy and the president were talking about the government taking over and running the health care system. They were talking about very, very severe limits on medical liability at that time" (7/19). A press release from the Republican National Committee says a recent RNC-sponsored poll found that the right to sue "loses by 2-1 against a quick 10-day review (appeals) process (62/31 percent) (RNC release, 7/17).
Debate This Week?
Today's Wall Street Journal reports that "[t]he fireworks over managed care will intensify this week." Sen. Lott and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) "have been engaged in intense negotiations about the terms of the Senate debate." Floor action could begin this week if the two party leaders reach an agreement. In the House, the HMO reform debate "may come to the floor by mid-week." House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) "has said he will allow the Democrats to vote on their bill, but other details of the floor debate, such as whether the GOP legislation will be able to be amended, aren't clear" (McGinley/Taylor, 7/20).
The Health Benefits Coalition announced Friday that "it will launch a 'new, aggressive media campaign' in 15 major markets to defeat the Democrats' managed care reform measures," CongressDaily reports. HBC's Dan Danner, a vice president at the National Federation of Independent Business, said, "In short, the battle is on and we are determined to continue the fight" (7/17).
A Heartland Issue?
Headline in yesterday's Washington Post: "In Kenosha, Most Voters Have an HMO Story. Health Care Concerns Expressed in a Wisconsin District Buttress National Poll Findings." While Kenosha, WI, residents interviewed for the article had concerns about HMOs, the article noted that "very few of those interviewed in Wisconsin said they consider managed care reform their top concern or an issue that will define how they vote in November" (Neal/Daniel, 7/19). Headline in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune: "HMO scrutiny a top priority in Washington" (Hamburger/Greiling, 7/20).
From an editorial in today's Investor's Business Daily: "It's not encouraging that the party which supposedly has faith in the free market -- the GOP -- is following in Lenin's footsteps when it comes to health care. He called health care a right, and Republicans are doing it too. ... Backers of the patients' bill of rights have ditched the concept of individual rights as understood by the Founders. Instead, they're using Lenin's concept of economic rights to get re-elected" (7/20).