PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Senate Finishes Off Reform Efforts
In a 50-47 vote, Republican Senators defeated a last-ditch move by Democrats Friday to bring HMO reform legislation to the floor, cementing the fate of this year's managed care reform effort as "a casualty of heavy lobbying by the insurance industry and of the sex scandal that has enveloped President Clinton," the New York Times reports (Pear, 10/10). If Friday's vote was the final blow, "it had been a forgone conclusion that creating a 'patients' bill of rights' was destined to land on the stack of legislation that the 105th Congress would not pass," the Washington Post reports. The issue fell aside in the wake of a "presidential scandal that drowned out most other political discourse." Following Friday's vote, Democratic legislators and President Clinton gathered at a news conference to criticize the GOP and to promise to resurrect managed care reform next year (Goldstein/Dewar, 10/10). In his weekly radio address, Clinton said he would "ask the next Congress to guarantee your right to see a specialist, to receive the nearest emergency care, to keep your doctor throughout your course of treatment, to keep your medical records private and have other basic health care rights. I hope next year we'll have a Congress that agrees" (White House release, 10/10). The Los Angeles Times reports that the "president's decision to emphasize health care reform ... suggests it could become a top-tier issue in the midterm congressional elections just over three weeks away" (Chen, 10/11).
Leading HMO reform proponent Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said, "Today, the Republicans paid off the special interests that are opposed to the patients' bill of rights" (Washington Post, 10/10). Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said, "Passage of real patient protections should have been the highest priority of this session of Congress," but the GOP "thwarted us at every turn." Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK) defended the GOP action. "The Democrats trashed our proposal and never tried to work with us to come up with common elements that could become law," he said. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), noting that HMO enrollees had "some legitimate concerns and problems," predicted that "we are going to address this next year." Health Benefits Coalition chair Dan Danner, whose group "vehemently opposed new federal mandates on health plans," said, "This issue will definitely be back, for two reasons. The number of uninsured people continues to go up. And after several years of relatively flat premiums, we now expect more significant increases in the cost of health care."
Rep. Charlie Norwood, the Georgia Republican who helped bring the patients' rights issue to the top of Congress' agenda, said of Friday's vote: "I am very disappointed that the Senate has not moved a bill. Senators did not act because they didn't have to. Their mind is on Clinton's problems. ... The Senate put off the health care issue, but it's not going away. I will butt my head against this wall until we get it done" (New York Times, 10/10).
No One Covered In Glory
An editorial in Saturday's Omaha World-Herald argues that the managed care reform "debate this year consisted of too much political maneuvering and too few attempts to consider the concerns of HMO members and determine whether legislation is needed. ... The voters should reject attempts by either party to get mileage out of the issue. Both parties have failed to address it forthrightly. So long as the two parties maintain their unproductive stalemate, the concerns of patients are being ignored" (10/10).