PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: House Action Could Start Friday
Newsday reports that House Republicans "plan to bring their" patients' rights bill to the floor Friday, "circumventing the committees." House GOP leaders also "are trying to prohibit votes on the Democratic version." But Rep. Vic Fazio (D-CA) said Democrats are "within striking distance" of getting the necessary 218 signatures to force their bill to the floor without first going through committee. Yesterday, House Democrats had 170 signatures for their discharge petition. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said "it now looks as if" the Senate debate on HMO reform legislation "will be put off until next week" (Barfield/Povich, 7/22).
Docs Come To Lobby
The Dallas Morning News reports that "[a]bout 100 doctors from the American Medical Association descended on Capitol Hill" yesterday, "saying the Republican legislation is weak and can't be enforced" (Ornstein et al, 7/22). Top AMA leaders met with House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) "to try to map out common ground" on the issue. AMA President Nancy Dickey "said much of the discussion focused on the litigation issue, with the AMA seeking some kind of a 'mechanism' for holding plans accountable that Gingrich 'finds agreeable.'" However, AMA officials noted that Gingrich "made no promises" to the doctors (Koffler/Caruso, CongressDaily, 7/21).
Other Hill Happenings
Newsday reports that congressional Democrats "held a clearly partisan hearing" yesterday to "tout their version of" managed care reform legislation. Speaking at the hearing, New York attorney and doctor Harvey Wachsman said, "I can't call it managed -- quote, unquote -- care. I call it managed fraud. There needs to be accountability ... which will stop them (health insurers) cold" (7/22).
CongressDaily/A.M. reports that Rep. Greg Ganske (R-IA) yesterday would not say that HMO liability is crucial, despite his endorsement last week of the Democrats' reform bill. Ganske said "it is not his desire to 'see an increase in lawsuits,' and emphasized the Democratic legislation's reliance on a 'fair and independent' review of patient challenges to HMO decisions." He said a "tough review process would obviate the need for many lawsuits" (Koffler, 7/22). Headline in today's Ft. Worth Star-Telegram: "Congress debating regulations for HMOs" (Fuquay, 7/22).
The Patient Access to Specialty Care Coalition -- a group of 133 organizations that support HMO reforms -- yesterday announced a national education advertising campaign in support of patients' rights legislation. The ads will be produced by Laszlo & Associates Inc. and will air in congressional districts from California to Georgia (release, 7/21). A Laszlo & Associates source said the ad campaign will begin sometime in the next week and will air only on radio stations (AHL interview, 7/21).
Reality (Of Liability) Bites
Making it easier for patients to sue their health plans will have drastic consequences, according to National Federation of Independent Business President Jack Faris and Ryder System Inc. CEO M. Anthony Burns. Writing in today's Washington Post, Faris and Burns assert that "employers cannot absorb the potential business-ending costs that are inherent with this kind of unrestrained liability." They add: "If employer liability passes, businesses will be forced to get out of the business of providing health care benefits to their employees. It would no longer be worth the risk. We don't suggest that lightly or with enthusiasm, nor as a threat. It is pure reality. Politics is often the art of compromise, but when it comes to expanding health care liability, there is simply no middle ground for employers" (7/22).
Much Ado About Nothing?
Under the headline "A Politics About Nothing," a Wall Street Journal editorial criticizes both parties for making up a managed care "crisis" for political purposes. "For all of the windbaggery," the editorial states, "our politics is not yet altogether about nothing. If you have the courage to peer far enough into this issue you'll find some reality about just where health care stands in the U.S. Where it stands is at a crossroads. Managed care, mainly in the form of HMOs, took over an out-of-control system run by and for insurers, doctors, hospitals and drug companies. And it imposed on these people the same efficiencies that were absorbed by the rest of the economy in the 1980s; no one disputes these gains. One big player, however, still has no role -- the patients." The Journal contends that the Republican patients' rights bills are the only ones that address this missing component, particularly in the "provisions to expand the role of medical savings accounts, which for all the bad-mouthing they get in the press, do move the debate properly toward much greater individual decision-making by patients" (7/22). Front-page headline in today's Investor's Business Daily: "Is Managed Care Really So Bad? Asked To Tame Inflation, Improve Care, It Did Both" (Gettlin, 7/22).
For The Right To Sue
An editorial in today's San Francisco Chronicle comes down squarely for expanding health plan liability: "The idea in assigning liability is not to encourage lawsuits. It is to deter HMOs from denying crucial care. What does increase with the right to sue is the level of care. HMOs think twice about denying a liver transplant or requiring a vacationing patient to fly home 5,000 miles for urgent treatment when they know they will be held accountable" (7/22).