March 17, 1999
CONTACT: Mona Miller

MARCH 17, 1999

Mr. Chairman, I am here today with much hope, hope that this committee can roll up its sleeves and work together to pass a Patients' Bill of Rights with meaningful reform to provide Marylanders and all Americans with better health care access and quality. I am a proud cosponsor of S. 6, the Democratic Patients' Bill of Rights because it puts patients first, not profits.

Last year, the Republican majority refused to bring this bill to a vote. The American people have had to wait a whole year for us to begin to solve the problem of managed care. Americans should not be forced to wait for some of the most basic, common sense protections in their health care!

I believe that one of my most important responsibilities here in the Senate is to meet the day-to-day needs of the American people. One of those needs is the right to quality health care. We all have heard the horror stories about regular Americans who are denied medically necessary treatments because large HMOs want to increase their profits. It is appalling that in the U.S. -- where we have the best medical services in the world -- Americans are being denied the treatment they need; treatment that is readily available. I shudder to think how many more of these stories will occur before we pass legislation that will correct these problems.

Let me tell you what my principles will be for any HMO reform bill:

    1. I am fighting to put patients first, not profits.
    2. Health care decisions should be made in the consultation room by the doctor, not in the boardroom by an insurance executive.
    3. Patients should have the right to receive treatment that is medically necessary, by the most appropriate health care provider, using best practices.
    4. Patients need continuity of care.
    5. Patients must be able to hold their health plan accountable for medical decisions, even if it means seeking redress in the courts.

The Democratic Patients' Bill of Rights meets those essential criteria. It addresses the five areas of health care that need reform:

I have heard from many Marylanders who have had problems with their health insurance or HMO. Whether it was claims or care denied or endless bureaucratic runarounds, the American people call on us to act. They know that when life-or-death health care decisions become simple dollars-and-cents business decisions, America's health care system is in big trouble.

The Democratic Patients' Bill of Rights would ensure that Americans would be able to make informed decisions about their health care. By enacting this legislation, the American people would be able to have the information they need to understand how health plans differ; know all of their treatment options, not just the cheapest one; have access to emergency care in any situation that a "prudent lay person" would regard as an emergency; use primary care physicians when indicated and specialists when needed; and women would be able to choose their OB/GYN as a primary care provider. In addition, decisions would be made by doctors based on patients' best interest and scientific knowledge instead of cost effective analysis, and doctors would be able to make referrals to specialists based on medical necessity instead of stock holders' priority. In other words, under this bill, health care decisions would be made by patients and their health care providers and not by an anonymous person sitting behind the desk at a managed care organization.

I am proud that my state of Maryland has been on the forefront of this issue, having already enacted some of the changes that are part of the Democratic Patients' Bill of Rights, such as improved emergency room access, access for women to OB/GYN care as primary care, and anti-gag rules. And just this year, the state is implementing a grievance and appeal process.

Additional efforts to protect the rights of Maryland's managed care patients are under way. These proposals include: giving Marylanders more access to specialists when they need them, providing more access to the life-saving drugs that their doctor thinks are necessary, saying "NO" to booting people out of the hospital following a mastectomy or testicular cancer surgery, and allowing patients to sue their HMOs for sub-par care.

Yet, Marylanders would also have benefited enormously from many of the improvements in the Democratic Patients' Bill of Rights. But everyone deserves these protections regardless of where they live and what kind of insurance they have.

I hope that we can work together to pass meaningful managed care reform to improve the quality of health care for all Americans. I am ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to accomplish this. Thank you.