PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Senate Democrats Press For Action
Floor debate in the Senate "bogged down" yesterday "in a dispute over Democrats'" effort to attach a managed care reform proposal to unrelated legislation. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) offered the Democrats' HMO reform proposal as an amendment to the appropriations bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs, prompting Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) to pull the spending bill and bring up product liability legislation. CongressDaily/A.M. reports that the "end result is a stalemate" (Morrissey/Wegner, 7/8). Lott said the Democratic proposal "would drive up medical costs." And he said "a Republican task force is nearly finished with rival health care legislation he would like the Senate to consider this year." While the majority leader offered no details of the GOP plan, the AP/San Jose Mercury News notes that "the Senate task force has been in close contact with a similar Republican group in the House that has outlined a plan that would grant some new consumer protections." Describing the Senate GOP plan, Lott only said, "It's certainly not the government takeover that Senator Kennedy wants" (7/8).
No. 1 Political Issue
USA Today reports that officials in both parties acknowledge the growing importance of managed care reform as a political issue. Daniel Sallick, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "This has the potential to be a national issue. It hits right at the core of what people are worried about and thinking about." Mike Russell, spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, "There's no question that HMO reform is on the minds of the voters. The question is, is one side or the other going to be able to gain any real traction? There's probably going to be a bipartisan solution to this" (Lawrence, 7/8).
Bob Taft, the Republican candidate in Ohio's gubernatorial race, yesterday "endorsed a key part of his chief rival's plan to reform managed health care," the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Taft backs a $500,000 cap on medical malpractice damages proposed by Democrat Lee Fisher, who "has made managed care reform the most visible issue in his campaign." To counter Fisher's HMO reform platform, Taft is drafting his own proposal. "We've been working for a number of weeks on this proposal, and we will be coming out later this summer with a comprehensive program that will deal with the abuses of managed care" (Theis, 7/8).
Chris Gabrieli, a Democrat seeking to fill retiring Rep. Joseph Kennedy's (D-MA) seat in Congress, is pushing HMO reform in his campaign. Gabrieli "has gone after health maintenance organizations in a series of television ads," the Boston Herald reports (Convey, 7/7).
Under the headline, "What Happened to Patients' Rights in Health Care?," Newsday columnist Robert Reno writes: "I presume we are supposed to sit back and watch capitalism work its way as it does in all private industries. Natural competitive tensions will weed out the weak players and leave some dead bodies as free markets work to make a more rational, efficient, cost-effective, choice-driven system. The problem is, of course, that since we're dealing with health care -- and not such successfully reconfigured industries as steel, automobiles or railroads -- some of the dead bodies will be real dead bodies" (7/8). Front page story in today's Christian Science Monitor: "Return of Health-Care Reform."