PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Clinton, Gingrich Urge Bipartisanship
President Clinton appeared at a Capitol Hill rally yesterday "to deliver an impassioned appeal to Congress to overcome partisanship and pass far-reaching protections for managed care patients this year," the Baltimore Sun reports. "We need to do this for America. We need to do everything we can to stop this from becoming a partisan political issue because it isn't, anywhere but Washington," he said (Weisman, 7/17) [Click here to read a full transcript of Clinton's remarks.] The Los Angeles Times reports that the president gave "a rousing speech" that "exhibited all the fervor and passion of the 1993-94 campaign that he and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton waged for universal health insurance, reminding listeners that for him the issue is personal as well as political since he is the son of a nurse" (Rubin/Chen, 7/17). The New York Times reports that Clinton "expressed reservations about the Senate Republican proposal released" this week, contending that the plan "would not cover enough people, and left too much up to the states." He said, "Some people will come to us and they will say, 'OK, we'll be for all the substantive positions in your bill or most of them, as long as you don't give the patients the right to sue, or some other enforceable legal right.' You can write all the guarantees you want into the law here in Washington, and if nobody can enforce them, the delay in the system will still cause people to die. We have to do something about this."
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) also called for bipartisanship on the patients' rights issue as House Republicans gathered later to "release specifics on their own managed care bill." He said, "I want to echo what the President said. This should be a bipartisan issue." However, Gingrich reiterated Republicans' opposition to allowing patients to sue their health plans. "We believe external panels of medical specialists are better than trial lawyers," he said (Alvarez, New York Times 7/17). The Los Angeles Times reports that "the window of opportunity for reaching a compromise is brief. There are deep philosophical differences on the issue and only a few weeks before Congress adjourns. Making the situation harder still is that a true compromise would require both parties to turn their backs on some of the special interest groups on whom they rely heavily for campaign contributions -- no small matter in an election year" (7/17).
Good News For Democrats?
The Congressional Budget Office "yesterday estimated that the average consumer would pay less than $25 a year extra for health insurance under the Democratic managed-care bill," the Boston Globe reports. Touting the estimates, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said the finding "shows that the wild claims of the opponents about the high cost of the legislation are wrong, and the previous independent estimates of minimal costs are right" (Black, 7/17). Overall, the CBO estimated that the Democratic plan "would drive up the cost of the average person's insurance premium by 4%." On the controversial proposal to give patients the right to sue their health plans, the CBO estimated that this right "would add an average of 1.2% to insurance costs ... less than half the previous estimates produced by several outside research groups." The Washington Post reports that Republicans "challenged" the analysis. A spokesperson for Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) "noted that even if the budget analysis were correct, the 4% increase could prompt nearly 1.5 million Americans to lose insurance coverage." Health Insurance Association of America COO Charles Kahn said the CBO appears to be "low-balling" the estimates (Goldstein/Dewar, 7/17).
From The Editorial Pages
Three of the nation's leading newspapers weighed in on the managed care reform debate in today's editions:
- New York Times: "Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are vying to pass a patients' rights bill before everyone becomes totally absorbed in the midterm elections. The competing versions share some common ground, but the Republican plan has a flawed design. It tries to placate consumer unhappiness while causing as little inconvenience as possible for the insurance companies" (7/17).
- USA Today: The staff editorial runs under the headline: "100 Million Reasons GOP's Health Plan Fails." Excerpt: "Many of the [GOP] plan's key protections are restricted to the 51 million Americans who get their insurance through self-insured, employer-sponsored plans subject to direct federal regulation. But another 100 million or so whose health plans are subject to state regulation are excluded. ... [A] bill of rights that excludes two-thirds of its target population is offhand and shabby. Not wanting to do anything in the first place, Republican leaders seem determined to do as little as possible in the second" (7/17).
- In the Opposing View column on the USA Today editorial page, Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) responds: "Republicans will not allow health-care quality to be defined by bureaucrats in Washington, DC. Trading the states' ability to regulate insurance companies for a one-size-fits-all federal mandate would hinder the development of new life-saving techniques and would undermine the states' ability to address region-specific health-care concerns" (7/17).
- Washington Post: "The problem is that passing a balanced bill is not what everyone has in mind. Some Democrats would rather have the issue. They would love nothing more than to be able to say to the voters this fall that the Republicans killed a bill to protect sick people from accountants. Some Republicans likewise would be just as happy to have no bill, so long as they could avoid the blame. They're averse to the regulation; their goal is to seem to be in favor of a bill just strong enough to bear the label of reform and weak enough that the Democrats vote it down" (7/17).
- Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Ethics and Public Policy Center's Robert Goldberg addresses the decision this week by 25 HMOs to endorse some government regulation of health plans. Goldberg calls this "an example of how large corporations use government to protect what they have rather than risk it in a truly competitive market." He writes, "The proposed regulations ... will raise the cost of running a health plan. The likely result: more mergers, bigger HMOs and more market concentration. More important, higher costs will crush HMOs' competition -- entrepreneurial ventures that are responding to consumer demand for quality care" (7/17).