PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: House GOP Bill To Come Today
House Republican leaders today are expected to release the details of a patients' rights bill "that would generally expand protections for consumers but would not allow them to sue their health maintenance organizations for malpractice," the Dallas Morning News reports (Ornstein, 6/24). NPR's Brenda Wilson reported this morning: "According to some reports, the task force bill would include provisions on medical malpractice, limiting awards for pain and suffering and punitive damages to $250,000 dollars" ("Morning Edition," 6/24).
Despite the unveiling of the GOP bill, two House supporters of comprehensive HMO reform are vowing to bring legislation to the floor that would hold "HMOs legally accountable for their errors" (Ornstein, 6/23). Reps. Greg Ganske (R-IA) and John Dingell (D-MI) yesterday "introduced the rule they hope will govern floor debate on managed care reform later this year." They want the House to consider the GOP leadership bill, Dingell's patients' bill of rights proposal and Rep. Charlie Norwood's (R-GA) Patient Access To Responsible Care Act. The two lawmakers vowed to "seek a discharge petition to force action" on the measures (CongressDaily, 6/23). Dingell said, "We want to see legislation that allows people to see doctors when they are sick, that allows doctors and patients to make medical decisions instead of insurance bureaucrats, and that holds managed care companies accountable when they make medical judgments" (Dallas Morning News, 6/24). Ganske said "he expects the managed care industry to wage as spirited a battle against his and other managed care bills as the tobacco industry recently waged against" anti-smoking legislation (CongressDaily, 6/23).
The Post Takes A Closer Look
Two front-page stories in today's Washington Post look at the front lines of the patients' rights battle. An article titled "Florida Curbs HMOs' Powers" examines how managed care mandates enacted in that state are working. Looking at the experience of managed care plans in Miami, the Post reports: "Here in South Florida, the new wave of government tinkering in health care is yielding tangible benefits for the segments of the medical industry that have been the most powerful voices during the state's legislative debates. What is far from clear is the bottom-line question: When government tries to reform managed care, are patients better off?" (Goldstein, 6/24).
In "Final Say: One Patient's Ordeal," the Post profiles the attempts of Abdul Hakim Al-Warith to obtain coverage for a "potentially life-saving liver transplant recommended by specialists at Johns Hopkins University" (Hilzenrath, 6/24).
An editorial in today's New York Times says new Medicare options and patient protections unveiled by President Clinton this week could influence the nation's managed care industry. The editorial concludes: "Leading health plans already provide many of these protections to all patients. The Medicare regulations will probably encourage more plans to adopt these standards for all enrollees since that would be easier than applying different standards to different patient groups. Even so, a fair-minded Congress would extend these basic protections to all consumers, including those trapped in low-quality plans. States have very limited ability to regulate in this arena. The administration's approach to Medicare could have a positive effect on the managed care system as a whole, but more needs to be done" (6/24).