With Talks Ongoing, Vote on Patients’ Rights in House May Be Delayed
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said yesterday that President Bush and Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) have made progress in negotiations over patients' rights legislation, adding that he may delay a vote in the House until September "if negotiators need more time," Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Although Hastert said that he still hoped to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote before Congress adjourns on Friday for the August recess, he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "there is a serious discussion going on" that may lead to a compromise. Hastert and Bush support the patients' rights bill (HR 2315) sponsored by Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) (Entous, Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/30). Under the bill, patients could sue health plans in federal court for quality of care issues and non-quality of care issues, but could only sue in state court in cases where health plans refused to abide by decisions made by outside appeals panels. The bill would cap non-economic damages in federal court at $500,000, but state courts could award as much money in damages as the state allows. The legislation would prohibit punitive damages (American Health Line, 7/9). Most Democrats and a number of Republicans back a rival bill (HR 2563), sponsored by Norwood and Reps. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), which Bush has threatened to veto (USA Today, 7/30). The Ganske-Dingell-Norwood measure 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. In addition, the legislation would cap damages awarded in federal court at $5 million, but state courts could award as much in damages as the state allows (American Health Line, 7/19).
The Bush administration has "furiously" lobbied House Republicans to back the Fletcher bill, but HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said that Bush's "arm-twisting" has not "produced enough votes." However, he added, "We're very close" (DeFrank, New York Daily News, 7/30). Thompson said on "Fox News Sunday" that the "White House is just 'six to 10 votes' short of what it needs to derail" Ganske-Dingell-Norwood. According to the Washington Times, "passage of that bill would be a huge defeat" for Bush (Price, Washington Times, 7/30). Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Bush renewed discussions with Norwood in order to "avert [such] an embarrassing defeat" (Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/30). Although Thompson said that Bush hopes to "reach an agreement" on patients' rights with the backers of Ganske-Dingell-Norwood, he added that the president "will not accept a bad bill that is going to ... increase the number of people that will be uninsured" (Washington Times, 7/30). CongressDaily reports that GOP leaders, who "do not want to embarrass" Bush, face a "challenge" to "modify" the Ganske-Dingell-Norwood bill "enough to force a conference in the Senate."
Bush's proposals to "bridge the gaps" with supporters of Ganske-Dingell-Norwood have "not been met with much enthusiasm" (Fulton, CongressDaily, 7/27). On Friday during negotiations with Norwood, Bush proposed a compromise that would shift lawsuits against HMOs into federal court, but allow patients to sue in state court in some cases, "particularly if they apply to the local medical malpractice laws," the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The White House also hopes to establish a "super shield" that would leave employers liable in health care disputes "only for federal laws governing contract disputes -- even if they instructed or pressured a health plan into making a medical decision" to deny care, sources said (McQueen, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/28). Supporters of Ganske-Dingell-Norwood said that although the proposal "encouraged" them, Bush's offers "don't go far enough" (Hosler, Baltimore Sun, 7/28). Fletcher said, "If these negotiations fail, it's because Charlie is not willing to compromise. Unfortunately, so far, he's still tethered to Dingell" (CongressDaily, 7/27).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.