Senate Set to Debate Kennedy-McCain Patients’ Rights Bill
The Senate is set to open debate this week on "long-stalled" patients' rights legislation, the New York Times reports. Senate Democrats today plan to begin debate on a bill (S 283) sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) (Mitchell/Pear, New York Times, 6/18). Under the legislation, patients could sue HMOs in state court for denial of benefits or quality of care issues and in federal court for non-quality of care issues. The legislation would cap damages awarded in federal court at $5 million, but state courts could award as much money in damages as the state allows. "I think that we will show the tremendous resonance this issue has and the tremendous support this issue has all over the country," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill. According to the New York Times, while Bush and Democrats agree on many provisions in the legislation, they "diverge" over whether patients should be able to sue HMOs and insurers in state court, the financial amount of caps on damage awards and whether the bill would expose employers and doctors to additional liability (New York Times, 6/18). Still, White House officials said that despite Bush's "tough talk," he "sincerely wants to sign" patients' rights legislation (Kirhhoff, Boston Globe, 6/18).
To "meet some concerns" raised about the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards legislation, the bill's sponsors this weekend agreed to "last-minute changes" that would "shield" doctors and insurance agents from lawsuits. In addition, lawmakers revised the appeals process, which "could make it harder" for some patients to sue health plans. Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer reports that patients would have to show that they were harmed "before they could bypass the review process and go to court." A Democratic aide said that the changes should "allay fears" that critics have raised about liability exposure under the bill, saying that the "overly broad" original language might have had "unintended consequences." Republicans said that the changes "took the Kennedy-McCain bill in the right direction" but "did not go far enough." Sen. Bill Frist, who has sponsored a rival bill (S 889) with Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), said, "Unfortunately, this new bill still has serious problems" (Entous, Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/17). Under the Breaux-Frist-Jeffords bill, patients with private health insurance could sue health plans after exhausting an appeals process by an outside review panel. Patients could only sue health plans in federal court, not state court, with damage awards capped at $500,000. Bush supports the Frist legislation (New York Times, 6/18).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.