PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Would Dingell-Norwood Hurt Businesses?
Several Republican lawmakers yesterday urged their colleagues against supporting the Dingell-Norwood patients' bill of rights because of the harm they said it would cause businesses that provide employee health care benefits. During a press conference sponsored by the Business Roundtable, Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) noted that insurance premiums for employer-based insurance have increased 8.3% this year, and said that Dingell-Norwood, which would allow patients to sue their HMOs, could place an extra burden on employers because it opens them up to lawsuits and additional costs (Amanda Wolfe, California Healthline, 9/28). The Association of Private Pension and Welfare Plans recently asserted that a new draft of the Dingell-Norwood bill would actually broaden patients' rights to sue employers that offer health care benefits ( California Healthline, 9/20). Hutchinson said that unlimited litigation could prompt employers to scale back the benefits they offer employees or cut coverage altogether to adjust for increased costs. Acknowledging that a patients' bill of rights is needed, he said that "unlimited lawsuits will only hurt." As an illustration of how the Dingell-Norwood bill might harm employers and employees, Michael Toohey, an employee of Ashland Inc., a petroleum company, related his experience with employer-based health insurance. Toohey, whose insurance covered his leukemia treatment, said, "I'm scared to death that employers who could get sued for offering a voluntary benefit will stop offering employees insurance." Employers can't afford the added costs defending themselves against litigation, Toohey said. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) predicted that if Dingell-Norwood is enacted, 20,500 people from his state alone would lose insurance coverage. "We can't let that happen in the name of reform," he said, adding, "What will happen to the Mike Tooheys if this bill passes? What will happen if employers stop offering health care because they're afraid of getting sued?" Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R- Ky.) said that the uninsured population might increase vastly if Dingell-Norwood is enacted and employers decide to cut back coverage, adding, "If we increase the cost of [health insurance], we increase the number of uninsured." Terry Flaherty, an employee with Caterpillar Inc., a machine manufacturer, has had three heart bypass surgeries and soon might receive a heart transplant. He speculated that he would not be able to secure insurance or afford coverage should his employer decided to discontinue coverage because of increased costs. "I hope the Capitol realizes: don't do us harm," he said (Amanda Wolfe, California Healthline, 9/28).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.