Patients’ Rights Showdown Between Senate, White House
"Escalating the battle" over patients' rights, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said yesterday that President Bush will veto legislation backed by Democrats "unless the plan is modified," the Los Angeles Times reports. Card "urged" Senate Democrats to compromise on the bill (S 283), sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), John Edwards (D-N.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) (Shiver, Los Angeles Times, 6/11). The bill would allow patients to sue HMOs in state court for denial of benefits or quality of care issues and in federal court for non-quality of care issues. While the legislation would cap damages awarded in federal court at $5 million, state courts could award as much money in damages as the state allows. "It is not a patients' bill of rights. It's a trial lawyers' bill, and it should be changed," Card said on "Fox News Sunday" (Los Angeles Times, 6/11). Bush, who maintains that the bill would prompt "smaller" insurers and businesses to stop providing health coverage for employees and increase health insurance premiums, has said he backs a rival measure (S 889) sponsored by Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), John Breaux (D-La.) and James Jeffords (I-Vt.) (McQueen, Associated Press, 6/11). Under that bill, patients with private health insurance could sue health plans after exhausting an appeals process by an outside review panel. Patients could only sue health plans in federal court, not state court, with damage awards capped at $500,000. Card said, "We think there is room for compromise," but expressed concern that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) had begun "closing the door" on negotiations (Price, Washington Times, 6/11).
Daschle said that Democrats have compromised "about as much as we possibly can" on patients' rights legislation (USA Today, 6/11). "I'm willing to talk some more. But I don't want to water down the bill to make it meaningless," he said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." Addressing the issue on CNN's "Late Edition," he added, "We have compromised and compromised. This is a case study in compromise." He also said he was "disappointed" about Card's "rhetoric and veto threat" (Washington Times, 6/11). "We don't need veto threats right now. What we need are ways in which to find the common ground," Daschle said (Bazinet, New York Daily News, 6/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.