Washington Post Examines Lack of Attention to Patients’ Rights Issue in Congress
The Washington Post today looks at how the issue of patients' rights has "faded from view -- both at the White House and in Congress." The push for patients' rights legislation peaked in mid-2001, when the House and Senate passed different bills, but the bills were never reconciled. According to the Post, attention to the issue has shifted in part because of the "difficulty of compromises in Washington's intensely partisan environment" and the "limited attention span of policymakers and advocacy groups as fresh issues emerge." Anthony Downs, a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution, said that attention to domestic issues usually diminishes after a short period of time, whether or not the issue has been resolved. In addition, the health care industry, states and the courts have produced changes in the absence of legislation. Since the late 1990s, many managed care plans have stopped requiring prior approvals for medical tests, hospital admissions and medical specialist visits. "It's not so much that HMOs are responding to political pressure. It's based on their direction from customers -- employers and ... consumers," Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, said. The push for legislation also has been weakened by recent Supreme Court rulings that have allowed patients to sue HMOs over coverage decisions in state courts; that let states create independent review systems to handle complaints against managed care plans; and that allow states to require managed care plans to work with any doctor who is willing to participate. "As a priority, this issue just fell off people's radar," Robert Blendon, a professor at Harvard University, said. Despite the loss of political momentum, Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Ga.), the "father of the patients' rights movement in Congress," says that he is waiting for the proper time to press the issue again, which might be next year if Congress does not pass a Medicare drug benefit or medical malpractice limits and Republicans are "looking for a concrete health care accomplishment to carry into their campaigns," according to the Post (Goldstein, Washington Post, 9/12).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.