PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Clinton To Cite Women’s Health Needs
USA Today reports that President Clinton, "aiming to pressure Congress to pass a 'patient bill of rights,' will cite a White House study today showing women are particularly vulnerable without federal protection because they need more specialized care and have more chronic illnesses" (Hall, 5/28). In a scheduled address before the American Nurses Association, Clinton "is expected to speak about" managed care reform legislation introduced by Democrats. However, an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times says the president "would perform a greater service by cheering on the surprising bipartisan support for several basic reforms" -- including the application of a "prudent layperson" standard in covering emergency room services, giving patients the right to appeal denied claims to "an independent reviewer," mandating that health plans "disclose how they decide which treatments will be covered" and banning "gag rules" from health plan physician contracts. The Times concludes: "The key challenge for Congress and President Clinton is to transcend blame, avoiding the posturing on both sides that torpedoed Clinton's first-term efforts at reform. If lawmakers keep their ears open to the people who elect them, Congress could still pass a bill guaranteeing the basic medical rights to which consumers should be entitled" (5/28).
Rights Would Be Costly
An analysis prepared for the Association of Private Pension and Welfare Plans estimates that the proposed Patients' Bill of Rights (HR 3605) would "increase costs for employers and for employees, and create causes of action against self-insured plans that have never been permitted in the past by individuals who are neither participants, beneficiaries or fiduciaries." Prepared by the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson, the analysis concludes that the legislation would make "significant changes to ERISA preemption," placing "employers at risk for the initial decisions that they make in establishing a plan." The bill would also create new state causes of action -- "thereby creating new classes of litigants." The analysis also notes that the term "personal injury" is not limited to "bodily injury" under the bill, "and it, therefore, could be defined very broadly by state law or by future plaintiffs" (APPWP release, 5/27).
On The Air
The Health Benefits Coalition is running print and radio ads during the Memorial Day congressional recess which oppose the proposal to expand health plan liability. The print ad features the headline: "A Patients' Bill of Rights Should Protect Patients -- Not Fat Cat Trial Lawyers." The ad states that managed care reform bills "would allow fat cat trial lawyers to make millions by suing your health plan and even your employer. But the costs of these lawsuits will be passed on to you." The 60-second radio ad contains the line: "America's trial lawyers are laughing ... all the way to the bank." The group is running the ads in Columbus and Cincinnati, OH; St. Louis, MO; Shreveport, LA; and Ft. Myers and Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL (HBC release, 5/27).