PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: House Democrats Have Their Own Bill
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) said yesterday that Democrats plan to announce their own managed care reform bill "in the next few days." CongressDaily reports that the bill "would likely fall somewhere between the relatively barebones 'consumer bill of rights' endorsed by President Clinton and the much more sweeping 'Patient Access to Responsible Care Act,' or PARCA, introduced by Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA), but cosponsored by a majority of Democrats." At yesterday's press conference, Gephardt said, "We are working on a consensus bill in the caucus." The consensus bill would be based on a measure introduced last year by House Commerce Committee ranking member John Dingell (D-MI), aides said (2/4). "Managed care reform is a win-win proposal -- small businesses and their employees will both come out on top," Gephardt said. "By raising the quality of all managed care plans, business owners will spend less time picking the right plan, and fewer hours dealing with their employees' difficulties with their coverage," he added (release, 2/4).
PARCA Gets WH Kudos
White House health policy aide Chris Jennings expects Congress to "pass legislation to provide consumer protections for patients in managed care plans," CongressDaily/A.M. reports. "It's a common sense solution to a common sense problem," said Jennings. While lauding the president's patients' "bill of rights," Jennings said the White House is "not rejecting propositions that would do more" and praised Norwood's managed care reform efforts. "I think Mr. Norwood has made a significant contribution to the debate and we wouldn't be as far along as we are if he hadn't raised those issues" in the PARCA measure, Jennings said. But CongressDaily/A.M. notes that Jennings "stopped short of endorsing the actual legislation" (2/5).
Long Road Ahead
CongressDaily reports that "business groups are likely to differ" on a PARCA provision that would "allow patients in rural areas to see a local doctor or go to a small hospital outside a plan, rather than being forced to drive possibly long distances to a regional facility that is covered by the plan." Norwood's office contends the measure is "business friendly" because any extra cost accrued by choosing a local doctor would be paid out of the patient's pocket. However, CongressDaily reports that the U.S Chamber of Commerce and other business groups "strongly oppose" PARCA's mandates on health plans and employers (2/4).
A Buck A Month
If PARCA were enacted, the average health insurance premium would only rise by between 0.7% and 2.6% maximum, according to a Muse and Associates study touted in a release from Norwood's office. "That's a mighty small price to pay for regaining the freedom to choose your doctor, hospital and treatment. And when you consider that also includes the ability to hold managed care plans legally responsible for damages caused by denying care, it's the bargain of the century," said Norwood. The Muse study confirms earlier findings by the Lewin Group that all the measures recommended in the patients' "bill of rights" and all but the liability measure in PARCA would only increase average premiums by about $1 a month (Norwood release, 2/3). Separately, Jennings said managed care regulation would not raise costs significantly. "You haven't seen a lot of cost increases" in states that have enacted these same mandates, he said (CongressDaily/A.M., 2/5).