June 8, 2000
CONTACT: Johanna Ramos-Boyer

Statement by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski
on the Patients' Bill of Rights

Mr. President, I rise to join Senator Kennedy and my fellow Democrats in support of moving forward on the critical issue of a strong Patients' Bill of Rights. As a member of the conference committee, I have been very frustrated by the slow and stodgy pace of our deliberations.

Our progress has been minimal and meager. The snails pace of the conference leads me to conclude that our Republican friends simply do not want to pass a meaningful and enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights. It is past time to deal with this issue.

It affects the health care of every American in a managed care plan, and those Americans demand that we take action . The 57 year-old man with prostate cancer whose HMO denies him access to a government-approved clinical trial doesn't have one more day to wait. The 35 year-old mom who had a stroke and whose employer switched plans in the middle of her rehabilitation needs continuity of care today, not months from now. And the woman who has to talk to 3 insurance company bureaucrats before she can see her ob/gyn needs red tape relief - "STAT."

In my years of working on this issue, I developed some core principles for any HMO reform bill - I am fighting to put patients first, not profits. Health care decisions should be made in the consultation room by the doctor, not in the boardroom by an insurance executive.

Patients should have the right to receive treatment that is medically necessary, by the most appropriate health care provider, using best practices. Patients need continuity of care. Patients must be able to hold their health plan accountable for medical decisions, even if it means seeking redress in the courts. Our colleagues in the House managed to reach across party lines and pass a strong bipartisan bill that meets every one of these principles.

I am disappointed that we in the Senate have been unable to do the same. And it has been 8 months since the House adopted, by a 275-151 vote, the bipartisan Norwood-Dingell bill (passed on Oct. 7, 1999). 69 Republicans joined virtually all Democrats. Good bill with solid, common-sense protections for the most serious health insurance abuses, like refusing to pay for emergency care even when a patient has symptoms of heart attack or stroke, refusing access to needed specialty care and forcing patients to accept lower cost prescription drugs that don't meet their needs.

The House bill is endorsed by 300 patient advocacy and health care provider groups. The Senate bill adopted on partisan lines (only 2 Reps voted against with Dems) - excludes more than 2/3 of Americans from its protections and those protections are like Swiss cheese - full of holes.

In this century we have made more scientific and medical breakthroughs than we have during any other century in American history. In the United States, we figured out how to handle infectious diseases, we developed lifesaving pharmaceuticals, and we invented lifesaving surgical techniques. But while we were making those breakthroughs, we also invented insurance gatekeepers who prevent you from having access to them. This doesn't make sense.

If we are really going to take America into the 21st Century, we must continue our discovery and our research, and we must have access to those discoveries. 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 crisis.

Thank you.