White House May Compromise on Patients’ Rights, Norwood Says
Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) said yesterday that the White House has expressed a "new willingness" to support a compromise on patients' rights legislation that would allow some patients to sue health plans for up to $4 million in non-economic damages, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 6/7). The Senate and House passed differing patients' rights bills last year, and sponsors of the Senate version of the bill -- Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), John Edwards (D-N.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- have been negotiating a compromise with the White House, which supports the House version. The Senate bill would allow patients to sue HMOs in state courts -- which often award larger damages than federal courts -- 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 courts at $5 million but would allow state courts to award as much in damages as states allow. The House bill would allow patients to sue health plans in state courts only for non-economic damages up to $1.5 million. It would also allow courts to award patients up to $1.5 million in punitive damages, but only in cases where patients won complaints against health plans before an outside appeals panel and an HMO still refused to provide care. Negotiations between the senators and the White House have stalled over the question of caps on damage awards (American Health Line, 6/5). Under the compromise plan discussed by Norwood, patients could sue health plans for "serious injuries" that result from denial of benefits or quality of care issues for up to $4 million to compensate for "pain and suffering." The plan would place a $1.5 million cap on damages awarded to patients with "less serious" injuries, although lawmakers said that they have not reached an agreement with the White House on a definition for serious and less serious injuries. The compromise would place a $1.5 million cap on punitive damages for patients with both serious and less serious injuries. The compromise would not limit economic damages, which are reimbursements for medical costs and lost wages.
Norwood said that White House officials have "assured him they would accept" the $4 million cap on damages for patients with serious injuries, but Edwards and Kennedy "have not accepted the idea," the Times reports. "This is the best deal Congress will get," Norwood said (Pear, New York Times, 6/7). He added, "It's inexcusable to let a bill go down the drain when you are that close." The Washington Post reports that Edwards has "rejected the amounts [of caps on damages] as too low" (Goldstein, Washington Post, 6/7). Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said in late May that he may appoint Senate conferees to negotiate an agreement directly with the House on patients' rights legislation (California Healthline, 5/22).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.