Groundwork Laid For Final Victory In 107th Congress
“This isn’t the end of the game; it’s first and goal
on the one yard line.”
|Washington, DC — “There’s not a single candidate this
election for the House, the Senate, or the Presidency, regardless of
party, who isn’t publicly supporting a Patient’s Bill of Rights and some
kind of right to sue an HMO,” says U.S. Representative Charlie Norwood
(R-GA). “Compare that to two years ago, when Senators were saying
that the best patient’s rights bill would be no bill, and you begin to see
the phenomenal political progress that’s been made in restoring the rights
of American patients. This isn’t the end of the game; it’s first and
goal on the one yard line.”
Norwood today praised members of both parties and houses who helped bring a patient’s bill of rights to the brink of passage in the 106th Congress, and vowed to reintroduce legislation on the first day of the 107th Congress. According to Norwood, the road to final passage of comprehensive managed care reform has followed a set pattern.
“In ’97-’98, we were blocked from having a vote in the House, but in the process won the public support of 234 members,” says Norwood. “That in turn led to House passage of the bill in 1999, with 275 bipartisan votes. This Congress, we have been blocked from a fair vote in the Senate, but in the process have won the public support of 51 Senate members, and the private support of many more. Following that trend, we’re right on track for final Senate passage of the bill next year.”
Norwood expressed appreciation to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), for allowing the historic October 7, 1999 vote on the Bipartisan Consensus Managed Care Improvement Act, that saw the bill pass by an overwhelming 275-151 margin. 68 Republicans joined 206 Democrats and 1 Independent in support of the bill.
“The Speaker still had reservations about the bill at that point, but recognized that the vast majority of the House wanted a vote. He made us work like the devil for it, but gave us a fair chance at passage, in spite of his reservations. That takes a mighty big man, and everybody in this country needs to be aware of the fact.”
Norwood says full credit for the bipartisan acceptance of the bill belongs to co-authors Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Greg Ganske (R-IA). “I did everything possible to lure my fellow Republicans into making this a GOP-only issue, but they never took the bait. Then John Dingell and Dr. Ganske stepped in to make it truly bipartisan,” Norwood says. “With John’s tremendous political and legislative skills and unquestioned integrity in negotiations, and Greg’s fantastic first-hand testimony on the problems facing patients in a managed care environment, we finally guaranteed the victory in the House we so desperately sought to no avail in the 105th Congress.”
President Clinton, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), were instrumental in keeping up the necessary political pressure to reach new bipartisan agreements, according to Norwood, and that should be noted in their political legacies as a major contribution to the patient’s rights movement. In addition, Norwood says Kennedy provided a substantial boost in winning over a majority in the Senate through his good faith and statesmanship in negotiating an honest compromise on key issues such as the expansion of Medical Savings Accounts, the tax deductibility of health premiums, and reasonable liability limits, which were key for the support of most Republicans and a surprising number of Democrats.
Senators Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL), Arlen Specter (R-PA), John Edwards (D-NC), and John Ashcroft (R-MO), also deserve the thanks of American patients, says Norwood. Chafee, Fitzgerald, and Specter voted for Norwood-Dingell in the Senate on every occasion, in spite of tremendous leadership pressure against the bill. Ashcroft provided the final public support to gain a clear majority for the measure in the Senate, while freshman John Edwards provided solid counsel on the legal details of joint federal-state liability that was crucial to Senate compromise success.
Norwood singled out Senator John McCain (R-AZ) as instrumental in bringing the legislation to the verge of passage. “Fresh off the campaign trail, Senator McCain brought the feedback of thousands of patients from across this country who are desperate for relief from HMO abuse,” says Norwood. “That infusion of energy early this summer, and John’s willingness to take up the banner, get out front and lead, resulted in a surge of Senate support without which we would not have come this far. While we never got to a final agreement on every detail of the bill, with McCain’s leadership in the Senate next year I have no doubt we will finalize a package that will sail through both houses in short order.”
The former dentist commended the efforts of the Patient Access Coalition and the Patient Access to Responsible Care Alliance, representing virtually all the nation’s 300-plus medical and consumer right’s organizations, for their tireless efforts over three separate sessions of Congress. “The AMA, the ADA, the Center for Patient Advocacy, Families USA, Consumers Union, the physician and non-physician specialty organizations, and too many more groups to mention, have been absolutely instrumental in bringing this issue to within a yard of the goal line. Without their dedication, this effort would have been killed with the first $10 million campaign by the HMO lobby.”
The three-term legislator predicts that the outcome of the national
election will have no effect on the final passage of full-strength,
comprehensive managed care reform. “Because of the dedication and
sacrifice of everyone who has worked on this on both sides of the aisle
and in both houses, we have achieved universal support from every
candidate in every race. The only difference left in position is in
commitments to specific bills. I don’t think who controls Congress
or the White House will have any impact on final passage, and I’ll go so
far as to make the most accurate election prediction of the
season. A 53-55 year old President from the South will sign
this bill into law.”
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