PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Clinton Sticks To Issue
President Clinton this morning urged action on patients' rights legislation in a speech to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Washington, DC (White House release, 9/16). At a press conference yesterday, Clinton maintained that the current scandal should not distract him from his broader agenda. "As he has in the last few days," the Washington Post reports, "Clinton tried to refocus attention on his policy agenda, including expanding patients' rights, replenishing the International Monetary Fund and preserving surplus funds for Social Security" (Baker/Eilperin/Gugliotta, 9/17). In his remarks, Clinton specifically said it is important for policymakers to begin "dealing with the Patients' Bill of Rights for these people -- 160 million of them -- in HMOs" (click here to read the full transcript).
Helping Medicaid HMO Members
In his speech today, Clinton was expected to announce "an array" of patients' rights that will be extended to Medicaid HMO members. The Wall Street Journal reports that Clinton's decree -- part of his "broader effort" to extend patients' protections to all Americans covered by federal health plans -- will affect 20 million Medicaid recipients. The new rules are those included in the Democratic "Patients' Bill of Rights": the right to see a specialist, the right for women to designate OB/GYNs as their primary care doctors, the right to emergency room treatment that a "prudent layperson" would deem appropriate, the right to be informed about a plan's benefits and the right to certain grievance procedures such as external appeals (9/17). Administration aides say "the new rules" show that the president is "undistracted" by the scandal surrounding him and is continuing to advance his "policy agenda." The New York Times notes that the new regulations "are important because more and more states are requiring Medicaid patients to get their care from HMOs." The new protections are also what the president's advisory panel on patients' rights recommended (Pear, 9/17).
Republicans Are Sitting Pretty
Today's New York Times reports that a memo "circulating among Republican members of Congress last week from Frank Luntz, a consultant who is influential with many conservatives, said Mr. Clinton was much weaker than during battles over changing the health care system in 1994 and balancing the budget in 1995" (Stevenson, 9/17). Yesterday's Washington Post reported that some Democrats are now conceding that Republicans "may be under even less pressure to enact a" patients' rights bill now that the Clinton scandal has come to dominate Congress' agenda. But White House health policy adviser Chris Jennings said Clinton "will continue 'to prod Congress on this issue' and stands by his earlier threat to veto any bill that he does not deem effective enough" (Dewar/Vobejda, 9/16).