March 2, 2000

For Immediate Release
Contact: Jim Manley
(202) 224-2633

At its most basic level, the decision before the conference is whether critical medical decisions will be made by doctors and patients, or insurance company accountants. It is time to protect families against HMO abuses that can rob average citizens of their savings and their peace of mind, and often their health and their very lives.

Every day, more patients suffer and die because of these abuses. According to a survey of patients by the University of California at Berkeley, every day across the country, 35,000 patients have their access to needed care delayed -- 31,000 patients are forced to change doctors -- 18,000 patients are forced to go without medications ordered by their doctor -- 35,000 patients will face delays in specialty care, or will be denied that care altogether -- 59,000 patients will endure unnecessary pain and suffering as the result of the actions--or inactions--of their health plan. Physicians report similar patterns of widespread abuses that bring pain and suffering–and even death–to large numbers of patients.

Abuses like these that take place every day should have no place in American medicine. Every doctor knows it. Every nurse knows it. Every patient knows it. And the American people know it. Congress should act promptly to pass strong and effective legislation to end this shameful situation.

One of the most critical decisions we face is who will be covered. The Senate bill excludes more than two-thirds of privately insured Americans from most of its protections–and it leaves out almost every citizen who belongs to an HMO. Our goal is to end HMO abuses -- yet the Senate bill does nothing to remedy HMO abuses. No American should be denied access to an emergency room by an HMO. No children should be denied a qualified specialist to treat their congenital heart disease. No woman with breast cancer should be denied participation in the clinical trial that can save her life because she works for a small company instead of a large one. Policemen and firefighters and teachers should not be condemned to managed care abuses because they work for local governments instead of private businesses.

The bipartisan House-passed Norwood-Dingell bill is an effective answer to these abuses. It protects every American. It has been endorsed by over 300 organizations of patients, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals, as well as organizations representing children, women, and families. It provides a solid basis for bipartisan agreement in this conference. We are open to negotiation, to compromise, to clarification–but the Norwood-Dingell bill is the right benchmark against which to measure any final legislation.

The American people deserve action. This conference owes it to every family and every patient to produce bipartisan legislation that will give them the protection they deserve.