Rep. Berry Criticizes House GOP Patients’ Rights Bill
During the Democrats' weekly radio address Saturday, Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) "slammed" the patients' rights bill (HR 2365) passed in the Republican-controlled House this month, calling the legislation an "HMO and insurance company protection act," the AP/Bergen Record reports. The House passed the bill, sponsored by Reps. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa), John Dingell (R-Mich.) and Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), after adopting a "compromise" amendment that would limit patients' right to sue HMOs. The amendment was drafted by Norwood with President Bush's "blessing." Berry said that Norwood's amendment would "gut" provisions supported by Democrats (AP/Bergen Record, 8/12). The House bill would allow patients to sue health plans in state courts under a new set of federal rules that would cap non-economic damage awards at $1.5 million. In addition, courts could award patients up to $1.5 million in punitive damages, but only in cases where patients win complaints against health plans before an outside appeals panel and an HMO "still persists in refusing the care they need." Berry said, "A compromise is not an agreement reached behind closed doors between two members of the same party, especially when it contradicts the principles so fundamental to one side," Berry said. In June, the Senate passed a patients' rights bill (S 1052) (similar to the original House bill before the amendment was added) that President Bush threatened to veto, maintaining that the legislation would promote "frivolous" lawsuits and drive up health insurance premiums. Berry said that Republicans, in adding the amendment to the House bill, hope to "create an impasse" between House and Senate negotiators to "prevent any managed care reform package from becoming law" (AP/Bergen Record, 8/12).