October 19, 1999, WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon is urging leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives to appoint conference committee members soon so lawmakers can work out a compromise on the Patients' Bill of Rights.
Earlier this month the House passed its version of a Patients' Bill of Rights designed to make sweeping reforms in coverage provided by managed health-care plans. The Senate approved a watered-down version of a Patients' Bill of Rights earlier this summer.
A committee of House and Senate members must now iron out differences between the two bills before sending the legislation to the president for his signature into law. The Senate leadership has named its committee members, but the House leadership hasn't.
"The sooner we get the two committees together, the sooner we can get this much-needed legislation into law," Gordon said. "And contrary to what I'm hearing, I hope the House leadership doesn't intentionally appoint members who are adamantly opposed to such reforms because the Senate version would allow health plans to overrule doctors when deciding whether treatment is medically necessary.
"Giving patients and their doctors more say in what kind of care should be given is the whole point to the legislation approved by the House. Common sense will tell you that a doctor and his patient should be the ones deciding what kind of medical care should be followed, not a bookkeeper sitting in an office somewhere making decisions based on a manual."
The House-approved bill would allow a patient to appeal a health plan's denial of coverage by taking it to an outside panel whose decisions are binding. The House's version would also require health plans to pay for needed specialists and to cover emergency treatment at the nearest hospital emergency room without someone having to get prior approval.
Other provisions of the House bill require health plans to cover necessary prescription drugs and to give seriously ill patients access to clinical trials. The bill would also give patients – or their estates – the right to sue their managed-care providers in state court if negligent decisions lead to injury or death.
"More accountability has to be put into this process," Gordon said. "Provisions in the Patients' Bill of Rights that I support would hold these health plans accountable for their decisions. Denying someone a potentially life-saving treatment, after all, is wrong, especially when that person has already paid premiums on a health plan.
"Any compromise that
removes the teeth from this much-needed accountability would be
irresponsible. People have the right to expect such protections in their
health plans," he added.