Radio Address for week of October 11, 1999
Patients Bill of Rights
Last week, I reluctantly voted against a bill which I believed was misnamed the Patients Bill of Rights.  Now, I know many of you may have concerns about my vote and question why I voted against a bill which contained some much needed patient protections for those in managed health care plans.  While the bill did contain some critical language which would help these patients get the kind of medical care they both need and deserve, it also contained provisions that would make quality medical care more costly and, therefore, less accessible. Unfortunately this version passed the House on a 277 to 151 vote.

Instead of focusing its efforts on a true patients bill of rights, the House passed a bill that focused more on the welfare of the trial lawyers than on the patients themselves, leading me to call this legislation the Trial Lawyers Right to Bill. The problem with this legislation is centered on its liability provisions which open the floodgates for unrestricted lawsuits against health care providers, insurers and even small and large businesses who provide health care coverage to their employees. As a result, the future of employer-based health care for over 120 million Americans will likely be in jeopardy. Only the trial lawyers will benefit under this legislation.

Let me explain how I made the decision to vote against the final version of the bill. As many of you know, the House considered four managed care reform packages as part of its debate on the patient protections for those in managed health care plans. All four of these proposals contained strong patient protection provisions, including lifting "gag rules" to allow free and open communications between patients and doctors to ensure better treatment, and requiring insurers to provide coverage without prior authorization.  Patients also would be able to choose their primary care givers from their own networks, including pediatricians, among other things.

However, the four alternatives differ vastly on the level of liability to which employers are subjected.  For instance, I voted for the three different reform packages, one which would have allowed a patient to sue his or her health care provider, insurer or provider in a federal court, but would limit the liability to a specific dollar amount for both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are considered to be lost wages due to injury or the loss of earning potential etc., while non-economic damages are due to unnecessary pain and suffering or as determined by the court.  Unfortunately, this substitute and the other two were not approved by the full House.

Unlike the substitutes I voted for, the final version of the so-called patients bill of rights contained language which would leave health insurers, businesses and health care providers wide open to unrestricted lawsuits. Under the bill, patients could sue in either state or federal court to recover any damages resulting from injury or wrongful death for any action in connection with the provision of health insurance, administrative or medical services. With no limit on liability, the amount in damages would be astronomical, leading to more claims and more players in what would surely become a lawsuit lottery.

Now while you may think being able to sue without restriction sounds good, I am afraid that the unrestricted liability would cause small and large business owners to stop offering medical insurance voluntarily to their employees in order to avoid the unlimited damage awards that are possible under the liability provisions. As a business owner myself, I believe that the increased liability in this bill would force me to stop offering medical insurance to my 200 employees.  And, I know that mine would not be the only business to do so. I voted against this bill because I want more people to be covered by health insurance. This bill will no doubt increase the number of uninsured, and make health care in this country less accessible and more expensive.

As the flood waters begin to recede in eastern North Carolina, the true level of destruction will become known. While my colleagues and I are working on providing federal disaster relief funds, I am again asking you to do whatever you can to help relieve the untold suffering left by Hurricane Floyd. Please keep the victims in your prayers.

Thank you for listening,

I am Congressman Cass Ballenger.

Home Page

Next                                                        Previous
Weekly Radio Program            Weekly Radio Program List            Weekly Radio Program