PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: President Seeks AMA’s Support
President Clinton "received strong support" from the American Medical Association yesterday "for his campaign to pass a 'patients' bill of rights,'" the New York Times reports. In his speech to the AMA's leadership conference in Washington, DC, Clinton said "the federal government needed authority from Congress" to give American health care consumers the protections outlined in his bill of rights (Pear, 3/10). "Forty-three states have enacted into law one or more of the basic provisions of the patients' bill of rights. But state laws and the patchwork of reforms can't protect most Americans. At least 140 million of them are without basic protections. That's why we need the federal patients' bill of rights with the full force of federal law," he said. Clinton said his legislation has "broad bipartisan support," and he urged the AMA to lobby Congress to pass the provisions in this legislative session. Reminding the doctors that "there are less than 70 days remaining in this legislative session," he said, "You must impress upon the Congress the urgency of passing this legislation. Believe me, a majority of the Congress, a huge majority in both Houses and members of both parties, are for this." Clinton told the AMA that his legislation is doctor-friendly. "That's what the patients' bill of rights is all about -- to put medical decisions back into the hands of doctors and their patients," he said. Clinton further said, "How will the 105th Congress go down in history? I want it to go down in history as a Congress that saved lives by passing the patients' bill of rights" (transcript, 3/9).
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) told the AMA that "Congress would probably pass" the patients' bill of rights. But Gingrich warned "that the bill would not solve the problems of doctors and patients fed up with insurance companies," the New York Times reports. "It is not going to solve the problem. It's going to add a new layer of litigation and a new layer of regulation. So there will now be government bureaucrats watching corporate bureaucrats watching doctors. And the doctors will have greater access to trial lawyers to sue the corporate bureaucrats. That is not a long-term solution," Gingrich said (3/10). CongressDaily/A.M. reports that Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), chair of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, "hinted" to the AMA audience that "he would be willing to consider" legislation that would permit patients to sue their health plans "for compensatory damages" if there were "some kind of cap on those damages" (3/10).
Newsday reports that a "nationwide survey conducted by a Democratic pollster found that 91% of women and 88% of men questioned supported the bill of rights" (Fireman, 3/10). And according to a White House fact sheet, a number of states -- even those with Republican governors -- have already passed at least one of the provisions outlined in the proposed patients' rights package. Click here to read the fact sheet (WH release, 3/9). Separately, White House health care policy aide Chris Jennings said the president wants to "modify" the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) "to include those federal standards and those protections" in his bill of rights, the New York Times reports. "We've not made a final determination on exactly what the best enforcement mechanism is," Jennings said (New York Times, 3/10).
Groups opposed to federal health care mandates criticized the president's remarks. Blue Cross and Blue Shield Senior Vice President Mary Nell Lenhart said, "Our concern is not with what they're doing but it's putting it into federal legislation. And we know from experience that you'll see broad standards turned into incredible micro-management by the end of the process. ... When you get this kind of micro-management, even on the most seemingly innocuous provisions, it raises costs. And this is hundreds of those kinds of provisions and costs will go up for consumers and that means more uninsured" ("All Things Considered," NPR, 3/9). Karen Kerrigan, chair of the Coalition for Patient Choice, said, "Bill Clinton is trying to now get universal health care coverage, which failed the first time around, by passing it off as some kind of 'patients' rights' initiative. ... These proposals impose 300 new mandates on the health care system, which will drive costs up for many insured individuals, including low- and middle-income families, the self-employed and working women" (release, 3/9). Echoing the same sentiment, the Health Benefits Coalition said, "Mandates increase costs and could force millions of Americans to lose their health insurance" (release, 3/9).
The Times Speaks
An editorial in today's New York Times calls the president's patients' bill of rights a "prudent proposal" that "doctors should support." The editorial predicts that the AMA "will probably support it because it helps them regain some of the prerogatives they have ceded to powerful insurance companies." The editorial further states, "The president's plan is also important for what it does not include. It does not pander to special-interest groups, like surgeons and chiropractors, by stripping health plans of their right to weed out needlessly risky and costly procedures. It would not, as many in Congress propose, force health plans to hire any doctor with the proper credentials. ... The president's plan does not legislate coverage of specific benefits or lengths of stay -- a decision that patient choice and rights of appeal can largely control" (3/10).
Letting Bygones Be Bygones
Newsday notes that Clinton was "[s]peaking to a group that bitterly opposed his health care overall program in 1994 but has recently become more friendly" (3/10). NPR's Mara Liasson reported, "Although they didn't stand by the president during his fight for health care reform, doctors are his allies now in the fight against managed care," and "the president knew just how to identify with their frustrations about paperwork and second-guessing" ("All Things Considered," 3/9).