March 9, 2000

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

I commend Chairman Nickles, the other members of the conference committee, and the staffs of all the members for the progress we have made so far. These initial discussions have been productive, and it's a good sign that we have been able to reach agreement on three important provisions.

At the same time, it is critical that we speed up the pace of this conference. We have reached agreement on only three out of more than 20 issues. Let's hope we can improve that record quickly.

Unfortunately, we have not yet even begun to discuss the most contentious issues – assuring that all patients, not just some patients, are protected, providing an effective and independent external appeal process, and holding health plans accountable when they kill or injure patients. These issues are especially critical, because rights without effective remedies are no rights at all – and rights that don't protect more than 100 million privately insured Americans are not acceptable.

Every day that goes by without action, more patients suffer. Whether the issue is diagnostic tests or mental health, prescription drugs or speciality care, or procedures that require a hospital stay instead of an outpatient drive-by, real people are suffering so that insurance company profits can grow. The abuses 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 in our hearts, all of us in Congress know it.

Senator Nickles has set a goal of reaching agreement this month. That is the right goal. But we are going to have to do better to meet it. Because of the Senate recess, the conferees will not be able to meet again until the week after next, the last week of the month. At that time, the staff should make recommendations about all the outstanding issues. In particular, I hope that we can direct the staff to begin serious discussions on the three critical issues of liability, appeals and scope, at the same time they continue to work through the important specific patient protections they have been discussing.

This Congress is facing many important challenges. But few are as important to families as ending HMO abuses. After three years of contentious debate, we are finally in the home stretch, ready to actually pass a strong, effective program that meets the need. The House has already passed such a proposal by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority. It's up to this conference to finish the job.