PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Senate Action Unlikely Until Sept.
It is unlikely that the Senate will vote on managed care reform legislation this week, "raising questions about whether a compromise acceptable to President Clinton can be crafted on the politically charged issue this year," the Wall Street Journal reports. Yesterday, Republican and Democratic Senate leaders were "locked in a bitter dispute over the ground rules for debating rival HMO bills on the floor" (Taylor/McGinley, 7/30). Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said Democrats must "accept placing a limit of six amendments on the legislation," and he insisted that "he will not allow Democrats to offer unlimited amendments, even when the Senate reconvenes in September" (Goldreich, Washington Times, 7/30). "If we don't get HMO-reform legislation, it will be because the Democrats refused to agree on amendments," Lott said (Journal, 7/30). But Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) "disagreed" with Lott's assertion. "What are they afraid of? Why not have a good debate? What's stopping them from giving us the full opportunity to debate this issue as we are each of the appropriations bills?" he asked (Alvarez, New York Times, 7/30).
Paving The Way To Compromise?
The Washington Times reports that the "standoff seemed to support the argument of five senators who introduced a bipartisan managed care bill yesterday" (Washington Times, 7/30). But Sen. John Chafee (R-RI), the lead GOP sponsor of the new bill, "said it was unclear whether ... [Lott] would allow a vote on his compromise measure" (Black, Boston Globe, 7/30). One of the Democratic sponsors of the compromise bill, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), said, "I intend to vote for the Democratic plan when it comes up. ... But the Democratic plan, in my opinion, has no chance to get even 50 votes and therefore when it and the Republican plan fail, I think [the compromise bill is] going to provide our colleagues in both parties with an opportunity to do something this year" ("All Things Considered," 7/30). While Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said the compromise bill is a "major improvement" over the Senate GOP bill, he said "it lacks many of the most important protections" in the Democratic plan. Yesterday, Kennedy "held his own news conference to criticize the GOP health bill as inadequate for women" (Boston Globe, 7/30). Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), a "principal author" of the Senate GOP bill, "said he thinks Chafee 'just wants to bring people together,' but expressed confidence that the GOP legislation will attract enough support to prevail" (Dewar/Goldstein, Washington Post, 7/30).
Compromise Is The Way To Go
An editorial in today's Washington Post lauds the bipartisan HMO bill released yesterday in the Senate: "The compromise offers most of the protections in the administration bill, without all the qualifications that leave the House and Senate Republican alternatives so weak. The one exception is that the compromisers would not broaden the right of patients to sue for alleged harm based [on] an insurer's decision not to pay. The idea is to rely instead on an administrative appeals system that the bill would require. If later that turns out not to work, then will be time enough to subject still another area of national life to litigation. The compromise also would strip out the party favors in both the House and Senate bills" (7/30).
Don't Give In On MSAs!
Today's Detroit News editorializes against the bipartisan bill's failure to include expanded medical savings accounts: "Mr. Chafee and others in the Senate are willing to nix the MSA option -- the best element of the Republican bills -- in exchange for Democrats dropping their provision to allow patients to sue managed care companies. ... This is an awful trade that would weaken patients both financially and legally." The editorial concludes: "The best way of ensuring that managed care companies offer -- and deliver -- better benefits is not through mandates and regulations but by introducing a dose of market competition in the health care industry. That is exactly what MSAs would do. And that is what Congress should work toward" (7/30).
See The Washington Times
Today's Washington Times features a "Health Care Reform" insert section featuring opinion pieces by Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Sen. Kennedy, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) and Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA) (7/30).