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