PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Senate Narrowly Rejects Measure
By a three-vote margin, the Senate yesterday defeated the House version of the patients' bill of rights, which had been added into a Defense spending authorization bill after languishing in a conference committee for months, the Baltimore Sun reports. The bill, which the House passed last fall, would have afforded HMO subscribers the right to sue their HMO for denial of treatment, designate an OB/GYN as their primary care provider and continue care with the same doctor even if their insurance changes during treatment. Fifty-one Republicans cast votes against the measure, while 44 Democrats and four Republicans voted in favor of it. Sen. Kent Conrad (D- N.D.) did not vote. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who forced yesterday's vote in hopes of advancing the committee's negotiations, declared victory: "We moved the ball closer to the goal line" (Hosler, 6/9). He added, "This is the clearest message yet that we're going to get a bill this year. A few more days like this and the Republicans will stop stonewalling." But Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) said, "The bottom line is the Democrats were never going to work with us on this issue. Today they proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they want a political issue. If Republicans want a patients' bill of rights, we're going to have to pass it ourselves" (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 6/9). President Clinton expressed his disappointment with the vote, saying in a statement that the "American people will continue to wait for the long- overdue patient protections that they deserve."
The fate of patients' rights remains unclear. Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said that he would renew compromise efforts, but added that he and other Republicans might push through a Republican- drafted measure (Espo, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/9). For their part, Democrats have vowed to "bring the measure up as often as they can to keep pressure on Republican senators." Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said, "This will come back" (Frandsen, USA Today, 6/9). Conference staff members were tentatively scheduled to meet this morning (CongressDaily/A.M., 6/9).