PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: President Turns Up Heat
"Setting up an autumn showdown," President Clinton yesterday urged congressional leaders to set a vote on patients' rights legislation and other health-related proposals he supports. Speaking before a group of health care advocates, he said, "We should not delay this any more. ... Nothing can stop it unless the votes aren't scheduled or we decide not to talk. And all of you know I'm always willing to talk." He enumerated an eight-point list of health care policy priorities that he wants to see Congress address, including medical records privacy (see story 4 ) and adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The president pointed to a "new and increasingly bipartisan consensus" emerging on health care reform. But he said that spirit of cooperation "will amount to little" if congressional leaders do not schedule a vote (AP/Los Angeles Times, 9/9). He added, "There are a lot of pessimists who think that nothing's going to happen here this fall, that the parties are just going to fight and maneuver and get ready for next year. I think they're wrong" (Goldstein/Pianin, Washington Post, 9/9). In a response to the president, House Ways and Means health subcommittee Chair Bill Thomas (R-CA) said, "In the coming weeks, we will be acting on comprehensive legislation on the health issues that matter most to Americans such as medical privacy, HMO reform and strengthening Medicare while providing needy seniors with a prescription drug benefit. Republicans in Congress have made tremendous progress on those issues, but we have the opportunity to do that and so much more with the president's help. ... The time to act is now. If the president is really serious about addressing the health needs of our nation's uninsured, he should stop threatening to veto Congress' efforts to make health care reform more affordable and he should sign the Republican tax relief plan" (release, 9/8).
BRT Study Blasts 'Dingwood'
An independent analysis of the Norwood-Dingell managed care reform measure released by the Business Roundtable argues that the "legislation would undoubtedly make all employers liable in state court over the health care benefits they provide. Prepared by ERISA experts with the law firm of Harrison, Segal & Lewis LLP, the study says: "The Dingell-Norwood bill would dramatically change the way that group health benefit claims are litigated in the United States. State personal injury law, both procedural and substantive, would come to dominate virtually all aspects of managed care. Employers would be subject to state law causes of action, replete with jury trials, extra-contractual damages, and punitive damages. It would be an entirely new day in this aspect of employee benefits law. Anyone who claims the contrary is simply failing to comprehend the thrust of the legislation." M. Anthony Burns, chair of the BRT's Health and Retirement Task Force, said, "This expert legal analysis of the Norwood bill clearly shows that it poses a direct threat to all employers who voluntarily provide health benefits. Before members of Congress sign onto this costly legislation, they should know the facts. And the fact is this legislation threatens every employee's health care coverage." The report is available at www.brtable.org (release, 9/7). (See story 15 on today's Wall Street Journal editorial also criticizing Norwood-Dingell.)
Double-Endorsement for AAFP
The American Academy of Family Physicians yesterday announced its endorsement of both the Norwood-Dingell and Coburn-Shadegg managed care reform efforts. AAFP President Dr. Lanny Copeland said, "Both bills go a long way to address the patient protections that are needed in today's health care system. We are very appreciative of the work of the authors of these two bills and of their willingness to listen to our concerns" (release, 9/8).