Rep. Norwood Says Patients’ Rights Work Should Go On Despite Attacks
Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) said last Friday that work on a patients' bill of rights -- versions of which have passed both houses of Congress but have not reached a House-Senate conference -- should continue despite last week's attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, CongressDaily reports. "We do a great disservice to Americans if we get off track because of this incident," he said, adding that for Congress to abandon its agenda is "just what [the terrorists] want." Norwood has spent the past two weeks attempting to "mend fences" with his "longtime allies" after he reached an agreement with President Bush to get a patients' rights bill through the House without consulting them (Rovner, CongressDaily, 9/14). Under the House bill, passed last month, patients could sue health plans in state court under a new set of federal rules that would cap non-economic damage awards at $1.5 million (California Healthline, 8/3). Norwood said that he had "apologized for the process" by which the deal was struck, which "outraged" other backers of a patients' rights bill. Last week he said that he would "support some changes" to the House-passed bill and that he has been involved in discussions designed to "strik[e] a deal" before the conference committee meets in order to smooth the way for a compromise between the House and Senate (CongressDaily, 9/14). The Senate bill, passed in June, would allow patients to sue HMOs in state court for denial of benefits or quality of care issues and in federal court for non-quality of care issues, with damages awarded in federal court capped at $5 million and no caps in state courts (California Healthline, 8/16). Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said he agreed with Norwood that Congress should move forward with its domestic agenda, adding that the attacks could "actually help smooth over the big disagreements" between the House- and Senate-passed bills. "Partisan disagreement on any topic is unseemly right now," he said (CongressDaily, 9/14).
However, many lawmakers said that domestic issues, including patients' rights and a Medicare prescription drug benefit, will likely take a back seat to national security issues in the wake of last week's attacks, USA Today reports. "We are literally scrambling minute by minute, day by day. Lots of issues like health care ... are going to have to be put on the side burner," House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) said (Welch, USA Today, 9/17). Referring to patients' rights and a Medicare drug benefit, Georgetown University government professor Stephen Wayne said, "I think those issues get pushed backed into next year. This is just not the time to raise these other partisan issues" (Bloomberg, 9/14). Political commentator Stuart Rothenberg said, "Bush is now the 'national leader,' and that lessens the chance of anything passing Congress that he doesn't want. And everything he wants is war-related. There's no way for Democrats to bring up stuff at a time when we're going to be burying people, and that could take many weeks" (Polman, Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16).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.