PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Senate Leader Wants Action This Week
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) yesterday "said he has offered to hold votes on both Republican" and Democratic managed care reform legislation and is willing to start floor action this week. However, Lott objects to Democrats' "request ... to open the bills to numerous amendments during floor debate." Lott said, "We'd like to have a bill," but he insisted that the Senate doesn't "have two weeks to work on" the HMO reform issue. He also said that if no deal is reached with Democrats, "he would consider bringing the GOP bill to the floor later this week" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 7/28). CongressDaily/A.M. reports that Senate Democrats "want the opportunity to offer 20 amendments to both the Republican and Democratic bills" (Norton, 7/28).
Sens. John Chafee (R-RI), Bob Graham (D-FL) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) were originally scheduled to unveil their bipartisan managed care reform bill yesterday. But late yesterday morning a press release announced that the bill will not be released until tomorrow (release, 7/27). The Chafee-Graham-Lieberman measure will "omit the Republican-backed expansion of tax-exempt medical savings accounts" and it will "eliminate the Democrat-supported broad new rights for patients to sue health plans" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 7/28). Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee Chair James Jeffords (R-VT) said the new bipartisan bill is similar to one he cosponsored with Lieberman earlier this year (CongressDaily/A.M., 7/28).
New Jersey Dems Vow Opposition
Today's Bergen Record reports that "three New Jersey Democrats vowed Monday to fight for 'a real patients' bill of rights.'" Sen. Robert Toricelli and Reps. Robert Menendez and Bill Pascrell Jr. voiced their opposition to the House GOP managed care reform bill during a "roundtable discussion on HMO reform at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center" in Patterson, NJ. "There's no reason for this to be a partisan fight," Torricelli said (Groves, 7/28).
Headline in today's Dallas Morning News: "Democrats Questioning GOP HealthCare Stance: Health care advocacy a political move to appeal before elections, Democrats say" (Ornstein, 7/28).
Today's Washington Post looks at the advertising campaign being waged by business and health care interests. Opponents of managed care reform "are trying to shift the focus to an equally unpopular target, the federal bureaucracy." Ads being aired by the Health Benefits Coalition try to stoke anti-big government sentiment by featuring a voice similar to Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-MA): "A Kennedy-like voice calls for 'scalpel' and 'sutures' until he's 'stitched together enough new government regulations on HMOs to put Washington in control of everyone's health care.'" GOP media consultant Mike Murphy, who is making TV ads for the American Association of Health Plans, said, "There's plenty of distrust toward 'big government' out there. We're trying to make the debate a little more complicated, just like real life. The solution may not be as easy as you think. ... All we have to do is remind people that there's no free lunch" (Kurtz, 7/28).
Everyone's Missing The Point
A lawyer for an independent health insurance brokerage agency writes in today's New York Times that Democrats' and Republicans' efforts to reform managed care will only make insurance more unaffordable. "[B]oth parties' bills are flawed -- and for the same reason. By trying to force managed care companies to expand the benefits they offer to their current policyholders, Republicans and Democrats are hurting the millions of Americans who cannot afford health insurance at all," writes Brian LeClair (7/28).
One More Editorial
From the Indianapolis Star/News: "There are bad HMOs and good HMOs, bad doctors and good doctors and a variety of third-party insurers who care in varying degrees about the bottom line. But micromanaging these organizations, and allowing government to second-guess their medical decisions, is hardly the solution to what ails American medicine" (7/23).