PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: ‘Mortally Wounded’ Thanks To Scandal
The drive for managed care reform in Congress appears to be "mortally wounded," today's Wall Street Journal reports. Patients' rights legislation has dropped from the national radar screen largely because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Sen. Richard Bryan (D-NV) said, "I'm not optimistic at this point. The president's problems have diverted the focus of attention from this and other issues. That makes it less likely that this issue will get the public traction it needs to pass." But the Journal reports that Democrats "privately acknowledge that their chief goal now is to try to salvage the managed care bill as the powerful campaign issue they once thought it was." Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) said, "We're hoping November will be a referendum on the patients' bill of rights" (McGinley, 9/18).
Clinton Rallies The Troops
President Clinton discussed managed care reform at two public events yesterday. Speaking to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Washington, DC, Clinton urged union members to elect Democrats to Congress so that patients' rights and other important legislation can be passed. "[W]e need more Senator Daschles and Senator Kennedys. We need more of these congressmen here; we need more senators like Senator Rockefeller and Senator Harkin. You'll have a chance in November to do something about that," Clinton told the audience (transcript, 9/17). At a campaign event in Cincinnati, Clinton said Democrats are "for the patients' bill of rights," and Republicans are not. He said the GOP managed care reform bill "leaves 100 million people out and doesn't do much for the people it covers," adding, "We're talking about a majority of the people in the United States of America who will be personally affected by how this election comes out" (transcript, 9/17).
Yesterday, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University released survey data on how voters are viewing the managed care reform debate as the 1998 midterm elections approach. During a panel discussion of the survey findings, John Kohut of the Rothenberg Political Report noted that the patients' rights issue "is being used by candidates across the country from both major parties and for state and federal offices." American Health Line Founding Publisher Doug Bailey said, "This issue, probably more than any other, is part of every campaign" (Meckler, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/18). However, the analysts "cautioned" that the poll was conducted before the Clinton scandal began to dominate the national airwaves, leaving uncertain the "potential effect" of the patients' rights issue on the midterm elections. "'Prior to the Starr report, there would have been a price to pay' for failing to pass a managed care bill," Harvard University's Robert Blendon said (Rovner, CongressDaily, 9/17). GOP pollster Frank Luntz said, "Lewinsky is forcing the health-care issue not only off the front pages, but also off the inside pages of the paper." But, Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman said, "The president's troubles may have sidetracked legislative action for now, but this issue is likely to return to the legislative agenda because the public's underlying concerns are still there" (Wall Street Journal, 9/18).
Ad Wars Cont'd
Last night's "World News Tonight" reported on the overall state of managed care. ABC's Martin: "The managed care industry knows it has an image problem, and is fighting back. Its TV ads say what patients are really worried about are rising costs that may come from new government laws and regulations." Martin added: "But it looks like an uphill battle for the managed care industry. Right now there are not one but three versions of a Patients' Bill of Rights under consideration on Capitol Hill" (9/17). In Minnesota, the HealthPartners health plan is sponsoring a new series of ads defending the care it offers to patients. The five 60-second television spots relate the stories "of five HealthPartners patients ... who were delighted with their health care." A HealthPartners spokesperson denied that the ads are a reaction to criticism of managed care plans in general. "I wouldn't call it a counterattack. This is telling more of the story," said senior VP Ted Wise (Lerner, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/18). [Note: the Star Tribune site allows readers to view one of the HealthPartners ads.] Voters may not be buying the managed care industry's arguments that more mandates will translate into higher costs and decreased access to coverage. "People are hearing the message, but they're not buying," said Blendon, chief author of the Kaiser/Harvard survey. That survey found that 74% of Republicans and 75% of Democrats now support giving patients the right to sue their health plans, up from 56% and 70% respectively last year (Pham, Boston Globe, 9/18). Don't forget to check out ads from the Business Roundtable, AFL-CIO, Health Benefits Coalition and the American Association of Health Plans.