PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: House GOP Bill Likely To Pass Today
"In a last ditch effort to shore up their shaky coalition, House Republicans refined their managed care legislation yesterday to give consumers more legal power to force their insurers to cover health care costs," the Baltimore Sun reports. To win the support of "a handful of dissatisfied Republicans," GOP leaders agreed to stiffen penalties that would be levied against employer-sponsored health plans for denying needed care. In the original bill, health plans would have had to pay $250 "for every day that care is denied," up to $100,000. The revised bill ups that penalty to $250,000 (Weisman, 7/24). Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was the lead proponent of increasing the penalty. "If an HMO is out of line, and is unreasonable and unfair, they get whacked," he said yesterday (Williams, Morris News Service/Augusta Chronicle, 7/24).
GOP Bill Will Pass Today
The New York Times reports that the House GOP managed care reform bill "is likely to pass" today (Pear, 7/24). However, the Wall Street Journal reports that "[a]s many as 35 Republicans were said to be undecided about supporting the legislation" (McGinley/Taylor, 7/24). One undecided Republican is Rep. Marge Roukema (R-NJ), who is reportedly concerned that the GOP bill "does not do enough to ensure emergency room care and access to specialists, and to prohibit HMOs from imposing gag rules on doctors that prevent them from discussing costly procedures with patients." Roukema also emphasized that she "has problems with the Democratic bill, because it would lead to excessive litigation." She said, "I'm going to evaluate them on the basis of what gives better access to care" (Piore, Bergen Record, 7/24). Rep. Greg Ganske (R-IA) is backing the Democratic bill. But House GOP health care task force chair Dennis Hastert (R-IL) said Ganske "does not appear to be drawing much support from the Republican ranks" (CongressDaily/A.M., 7/24).
Yesterday, the White House said the House GOP bill would "probably" be vetoed by the president if it passes in its current form. A White House statement said the bill "covers too few people, it provides too few patient protections, and it contains unnecessary and irrelevant provisions that undermine the chances for a bipartisan agreement on a patients' bill of rights." President Clinton, however, "said he wanted to work with Republicans to establish strong, enforceable protections for patients this year" (New York Times, 7/24). House Democrats plan to push their patients' rights bill during debate today, but Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) "said he could count on support from only one Republican" -- Rep. Ganske. Gephardt said, "I think what (the Republicans have) here is a bill that's largely been written by the managed care companies. It's an attempt to look like you're doing something, while really not doing anything, to take the political heat."
House Conservatives' Offer Alternative
Today's Washington Times reports that the Conservative Action Team, a group of House conservatives, are pushing an alternative health care bill aimed at "allow[ing] individuals to deduct the cost of insurance premiums from their taxes, a break currently given only to employers who offer health benefits." Rep. John Shaddegg (R-AZ), the lead sponsor of the alternative, said, "For too long, health care has been owed and controlled by employers, not individuals. In order to truly change health care in America, we must allow families and individuals to purchase their own health insurance." Shaddegg's proposal "also would allow members of employer health plans to sue their insurer company for as much as $250,000 to recover pain and suffering damages." Members of the Conservative Action Team have agreed to back the House GOP bill but are vowing to push their measure as well (Goldreich, 7/24).
The Latest Polling Data
A recent survey conducted by Zogby International found that 78% of respondents said patients should be allowed to sue HMOs to recover damages for harm caused by the HMO's denial of medically necessary care. Only 11% answered no to the question. The survey of 973 likely voters has a margin of error of +/-3.2% (Zogby release, 7/23).
AMA Attack On Capitol Hill
From today's Dallas Morning News: "The American Medical Association summoned 100 doctors ... to town this week to publicize their problems with managed care and urge Congress to pass Democratic legislation that would allow injured patients to sue their health plans for damages (Ornstein, 7/24). Click here to view the "Patients' Bill of Rights Campaign" on the AMA's website.