Post Examines Employers’ Campaign Against Patients’ Rights
Nearly 300 companies and trade groups told President Bush in a March 14 letter that many businesses would "stop offering coverage altogether" if federal patients' rights legislation permits workers to sue employers for care denials, but when pressed further, the firms can provide little evidence to back up this claim, the Washington Post reports. The letter, which has been reprinted several times as an advertisement in Roll Call and CongressDaily/A.M., states that patients' rights legislation "would threaten the health coverage of 172 million employees and their families." According to the Health Benefits Coalition, the group that sent the letter, the campaign is meant to "target" the patients' rights bill (S 283) sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.), which would allow workers to sue their employers for damages up to $5 million, although only if the employer had participated in making the coverage decision and after the employee exhausted a round of appeals. The business coalition also issued a news release featuring a Hewitt Associates survey that found 46% of 600 large employers would likely drop health coverage if they were subject to malpractice lawsuits. Further, the Web site of the National Federation of Independent Business says that "more than 100" of the group's 600,000 members "have stated in the media and to Congress that they would strongly consider dropping all employee insurance benefits should extended liability become law."
When the Post asked NFIB to identify the 100 members, however, it received only four names, and the paper subsequently found that only one of those employers -- a "Florida man who runs a paralegal service with two employees out of his house" -- said definitively that he would drop coverage "immediately" if the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill became law. The three other employers said they opposed the bill but would "carefully consider their options before dropping health benefits," the Post reports. Coalition Chair Dan Danner, also NFIB vice president, said the letter's strategy "was to make clear how strongly the business community overall, large and small, feels about this issue." But he added that he didn't think many businesses "would immediately drop coverage" should the legislation become law. Hewitt Associates consultant Frank McArdle added that while the firm's survey provided a "very strong signal" of employer intentions, "[I]t's easier to say things than to do things." For his part, Edwards called the coalition's claims "pure rhetoric." The Post notes that while the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bills would make large businesses that administer their own health plans particularly "vulnerable" to malpractice lawsuits because they contract directly with doctors and hospitals and make decisions on whether to pay claims, benefits consulting firm William Mercer reports that less than 5% of large employers run their own plans (Brubaker, Washington Post, 4/12).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.