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Copyright 1999 Federal News Service, Inc.  
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Today's hearing is on "Key Patients' Protections: Lessons From the Field." This hearing culminates more than two years of debate and hard work, and more than a dozen hearings by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on the issue of Patients' Bill of Rights legislation.
The Committee has heard from numerous individuals and organizations interested in health care issues and patients' rights. We have explored many complex and thorny issues involving patients, health plans, and providers. Through this process, I am encouraged by the consensus that has emerged on the core elements of a Patients' Bill of Rights.
- Consumers need to have information to help them make informed decisions about health plans, professionals, and facilities. They need to know what their plan will cover and how to appeal adverse decisions. - Patients should have access to emergency room services when the need arises and should not have to forgo care in an emergency situation for fear that the plan will later refuse to pay.
- Patients should be active participants in their care and treatment and should be able to communicate openly with their health care professional.
- Patients should have access to a fair and efficient process for resolving differences with their plans and providers. This process should include a rigorous system of internal and external review for all group health plans and help to promote the dissemination of the best practices of medicine.
I am confident we can provide these protections. And I believe that the American people expect us to do this in a manner that responds to the real concerns of consumers. I also believe we have an obligation to act responsibly, without unduly raising the cost of health coverage or upsetting the existing balance between state and federal regulation of health coverage.On our first panel, we will hear from the U.S. General Accounting Office about a new study that examines key patient protection laws enacted by the 15 states with the heaviest managed care enrollment. The GAO will tell us about the range of patient protection activities and how these activities compare to the protections incorporated in S. 326 and S. 6, the two main consumer protection bills before this committee.
We will also hear from the NAIC about state patient protection activities. I intend to explore with the NAIC how states tailor their patient protection laws to meet the unique needs of consumers in their state. I will also ask the NAIC to comment on the appropriate roles for state and federal regulators and to provide the NAIC's assessment of the regulatory structures of S. 326 and S. 6.
Next, we will hear testimony from Peter Thomas, Former Chair of the Subcommittee on Consumer Rights from the President's Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality. This testimony will provide the Committee with an opportunity to revisit the recommendations made by the President's Commission. I will ask the witness to comment on how the Commission developed consensus for these recommendations.
On our second panel, we will hear from representatives of health plans, health professionals, consumers, and business purchasers of health care. These representatives will testify about the need for federal legislation and voluntary market efforts to implement patient protections. They will comment on their organizations' priorities for federal patient protection legislation and how S. 326 and S. 6 measure up. I will also ask them to estimate the impact of these bills, with regard to cost, coverage, and protection of patients who are not protected by other laws. Finally, I will ask them to comment on what they think is the appropriate role for the federal government in ensuring patient rights. Next week the Committee will begin its mark-up of S.326, the "Patients' Bill of Rights Act." This hearing will help us assess where we stand on these important issues.
The hearing will follow the Committee's usual format. Each of the witnesses will speak five minutes, and each member will have up to five minutes per round for questioning. The hearing record will remain open for two weeks, and any written statements and questions for the record should be submitted within that time frame.

LOAD-DATE: March 13, 1999

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