For Immediate Release
July 12, 1999

Contact: Jim Farrell or Andy McDonald
(202) 224-8440

***Senate Begins Debate Today on Patients' Bill of Rights***

Wellstone Calls for Strong Patient Protections

7/12 Floor Statement

(Washington, D.C.) -- As the Senate began debate on legislation to provide basic patient protections for consumers in managed health care plans, U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone called for the passage of a strong Patients' Bill of Rights. Wellstone has been advocating patient protection legislation ever since becoming a senator.

"These protections are long overdue for patients and consumers in Minnesota and around the country," Wellstone said. "People ought to have the right and the assurance that if their child has a serious illness, they will be able to have access to the best care. That assurance for a family should extend to all citizens in our country, not just people in certain states or with certain types of health plans. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of the big health insurance companies that own and control most of the managed care plans in our country. Consumers want to know where they fit in. The caregivers, the doctors and the nurses, want to know where they fit in."

The Senate Democrats' Patients' Bill of Rights legislation has provisions to ensure that patients have access to the care they need, that doctors are free to practice medicine without improper interference from HMOs and insurance companies, that a health plan's decision to deny care can be appealed by patients to an independent entity, and that health plans are held accountable for their medical decisions that lead to harm. It would cover all 163 million privately insured Americans nationwide. The Republican version of the legislation would cover only 48 million of the privately insured Americans.

Wellstone will be offering at least one amendment to the bill. His amendment, called the "Point-of-Service option," guarantees patients the choice to stay with a doctor from a previous plan or go to a particular doctor not included in their current plan's network of providers. If patients cannot find the doctor they need in their health plan they can go elsewhere. It is estimated that the Point-of-Service option would cost employers about $1 per year.

"This Point of Service Amendment is about freedom of choice for patients, about continuity and about getting people access to the care that they need," Wellstone said. "Patients should have the right to choose a doctor from the widest possible selection and continue their relationship with a doctor whom they trust for as long as possible."