PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Dems Vow Action In 106th Congress
In the shadow of Independent Counsel Kenneth Star's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, Democratic leaders and several incoming party freshmen gathered at a press conference to re-affirm their commitment to passing patients' rights legislation when Congress reconvenes in January. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (SD), House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (MO), Sen. Edward Kennedy (MA), Sen.-elect Chuck Schumer (NY) and Rep.-elects Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Joe Hoeffel (PA) asserted that, in contrast to the GOP's pre-occupation with the impeachment investigations, the "agenda of the American people is solving a health problem. That's what we ought to be working on." Gephardt noted that the Democratic version of the patients' bill of rights "missed by five votes" in the House -- the exact number of seats that House Democrats picked up in the recent election.
Daschle said passing the patients' bill of rights "means passing something the American people can take to the hospital, to the doctor's office, and to their families with an expectation that we've really done some good. So our message today is pretty simple. We stand united as Democrats hoping to work with our Republican colleagues in a way that will allow this to become meaningful law sometime in 1999." Baldwin said, "[W]hile I come from a district with exceptional health facilities, doctors and nurses that are highly trained, people in managed care programs are often feeling like their access to those facilities, to those physicians and nurses is not being made by those professionals, but rather by those whose decisions are being made based on profits. And that is unacceptable to the people that I am about to represent in the 106th Congress" (Federal Document Clearing House transcript 11/19).
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In related news, the Health Benefits Coalition -- an alliance including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many health insurers - - mailed a letter to all incoming legislators stating that the group "strongly opposes legislation that would put health plans, and the employers who sponsor them, at risk of costly new lawsuits. ... We hope you will reach the same conclusion." The letter concludes, "We all agree that our health care system is far from perfect. But Congress should refrain from doing more harm than good. At a time when health care costs and the number of uninsured are growing, now is certainly not the time to further increase costs and the ranks of the uninsured" (HBC letter, 11/19).