PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: House GOP Task Force Finalizes Bill
Today's Chicago Tribune reports that a House Republican health care task force "reached agreement Monday on a plan to offer patients of managed care health plans new consumer protections and to make health insurance more affordable for millions of workers at small companies." The plan is "the Republican answer to President Clinton's 'patient bill of rights,'" which was introduced in the House by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). Under the GOP proposal, enrollees "denied coverage under their plans would have the right to appeal to an independent external board and receive a speedy decision -- within 10 days -- on whether they will be covered, sources said." The plan also would bar health plans from imposing so-called gag clauses on physicians -- contract requirements that prohibit doctors from discussing a full range of treatment options with patients. In addition, the GOP bill "would enable patients to turn to specialists outside their health care plans, with their plans paying some of the costs." Importantly, the task force "rejected a proposal that would enable patients to sue health insurance plans for damages if a patient is injured or dies through denial or restriction of care." According to the Tribune, House Republicans will unveil their proposal tomorrow, with action expected this summer.
House Republicans also want to include new options to help employees at small businesses and self-employed workers buy health care coverage. One plan adopted by the task force, proposed by Rep. Harris Fawell (R-IL), "would enable workers of an industry to buy insurance through a qualified trade association." A separate plan, put forth by Rep. Thomas Bliley (R-VA), "would set up private purchasing cooperatives through which workers in small firms would buy their insurance" (Neikirk, 6/23).
Pressuring The Leadership
Reps. John Dingell (D-MI) and Greg Ganske (R-IA) "plan to announce today that they will seek a floor vote on two leading comprehensive" managed care reform proposals -- Dingell's Democratic leadership bill and Rep. Charlie Norwood's (R-GA) Patient Access to Responsible Care Act. The Wall Street Journal reports that the "first step is the filing of a resolution to the House Rules Committee." If no action is taken by the committee after a week, reform supporters "can begin collecting the 218 signatures needed to bring the bills to the floor" under a discharge petition. The petition drive "won't begin until the week of July 13, when Congress returns from its July 4 recess," the Journal reports (McGinley, 6/23).
Yesterday in Nashville, TN, President Clinton "urged" attendees at a conference on health care and the family "to return home and launch a massive drive for" enacting patients' rights legislation, as well as legislation to crack down on youth smoking (Locker, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 6/23).
Ad Wars Continued
Today's Wall Street Journal reports that the American Association of Health Plans "is rolling out television advertisements" to warn the public about the dangers of enacting proposed HMO reforms. The ads "highlight what the industry warns are the potential risks of a managed-care crackdown: higher costs and fewer people covered by insurance" (6/23). According to an AAHP spokesperson, the ads will begin running in the Washington, DC, area tomorrow. The ads, he said, "were conceived and produced ... at AAHP -- something we haven't done until this year -- under the direction of Mark Merritt," the group's chief of strategic planning and public affairs (6/23). (Editor's note: Merritt served as press secretary to former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander's 1996 presidential campaign.)