PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Supporters Cry Foul on ‘Access Package’
Supporters of comprehensive patients' rights reform are "accusing the Republican leadership of trying to scuttle the legislation by tying it to a separate bill that contains tax credits that the Democrats strongly oppose," the New York Times reports. The "Access Package," introduced Tuesday by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other Republican leaders, would expand coverage for uninsured Americans through tax deductions and medical savings accounts. Although rules for next week's floor debate will not be decided until Monday, Hastert and House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) have said that the House "will vote separately on the new insurance access bill, which is likely to pass, and then on the Dingell-Norwood bill and other managed care bills." The results would be combined into one package before heading into conference with the Senate. House Republican aides say combining the bills is necessary because the Senate managed care bill, passed in July, did not include tax breaks. But Senate Republican aides note that their bill provides $13 billion in tax breaks, and Dingell-Norwood supporters protest that the combination strategy will "drain Democratic votes from their legislation, because even if it passed it would be blended with a measure riddled with what they called 'poison pills.'" The strategy "is an attempt to defeat managed-care reform through parliamentary maneuvering," Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA) said in a statement, while Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) called the access bill "a compendium of diversionary and obfuscatory mischief" (Schmitt, 10/1).
Commenting on the Congressional controversy, the Augusta Chronicle states, "The U.S. House GOP leadership will be making a grave mistake if it follows through on the 'poison pill' amendment to kill" Dingell-Norwood. The editorial warns that combining the two bills "could send both measures to the graveyard" and urges legislators to sign a discharge petition being circulated by Norwood and others that would overrule the House leadership's rules for floor debate and allow separate votes on the two bills. The petition needs 218 votes to pass. "'Poison pills' are anti-democratic and breed public cynicism about 'special interest' influence in Congress," the Chronicle says. "These are both good measures that should be allowed to stand or fall on their merits-separately" (9/30). An Investor's Business Daily editorial warns Republicans that pursuing the combination strategy could lead to a Democratic majority. Pointing to recent health-care legislation -- the Kassebaum-Kennedy insurance reform bill, the creation of CHIP and the ban on "drive-through deliveries" -- the paper identifies a "pattern": Democrats support overly restrictive legislation but are able to lure some moderate Republican support; Republicans craft conservative counter-proposals; Democrats demand "provisions and restrictions that gum up the real reforms so they can't work;" a modified bill passes and proves ineffective; Democrats use the failure to say, "I told you so." The paper offers support to provisions in the Senate's managed-care legislation, such as reform for MSAs and Flexible Spending Accounts and a restricted definition of medical liability (10/1). A statement released yesterday by the Health Insurance Association of American condemns the patients' rights proposals currently in play, saying none of them addresses "the key issues adversely affecting quality of care: overuse, underuse and misuse of medical services" (HIAA release, 9/30).