PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: WS Journal Blasts Dingell-Norwood
If passed, the Dingell-Norwood patients' rights bill would "re- energize ... the health care system's unacceptably destructive upward cost spiral" by opening the door to "a million" lawsuits and forcing a concurrent rise in premiums, argues today's Wall Street Journal. The paper calls the bill "a piece of legislation intended to put the plaintiffs lawyers in pig heaven" and cites research by the American Association of Health Plans showing that in 1997 and 1998, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America gave $1.3 million in donations to co- sponsors of bills supporting greater legal liability for HMOs -- an amount roughly equivalent to donations made during that period to all causes by the AFL-CIO, "a legendary spender." The threat of lawsuits, argues the Journal, would manifest itself as premium increases as litigation costs are passed onto employers. The likely result: a sharp rise in the number of uninsured, based on 1980s data showing that for every percentage point increase in premiums, 300,000 people lose coverage. The Journal expresses surprise that 21 House Republicans have signed on to Dingell-Norwood, saying "the destructive effects and cynical opportunism of these tort expansions is by now so obvious that one might expect Republicans to be happy for the opportunity to oppose them."
Senate Silver Lining?
The Journal offers lukewarm support for the patients' rights bill passed by the Senate in July, which "mercifully skips the liability obsession, though it typically imposes mandates on the insurance and managed care market." The Senate bill also receives praise for expanding Medical Savings Accounts to nearly all employers and increasing the amount of money patients can save in MSAs. Taking a shot at Al Gore's new proposal to give every child in the country "affordable health coverage" -- "somebody could probably do a useful little essay on what politicians mean when they use the word `affordable'" -- the paper also credits GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush for supporting increased competition and more private sector alternatives for health coverage (9/9).