For Immediate Release
June 24, 1999

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

Wellstone Stands Up for Patient Protections

Senator Calls for Debate, Passage of Patients' Bill of Rights

Republicans Refuse to Debate Issue on Senate Floor

 (Washington, D.C.) -- Continuing his 5-year fight for patient protections, U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone called for the passage of a strong Patients' Bill of Rights and challenged Senate Republicans to allow a full debate on the legislation in remarks today on the Senate floor. Wellstone and his Democratic colleagues are increasing the pressure on the Republican leadership to bring the Patients' Bill of Rights legislation to the Senate floor for a full debate.

"These protections are long overdue for patients and consumers in Minnesota and around the country," Wellstone said. "People ought to have the right, or 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 (S. 6) 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.

As Wellstone and the Democrats increased pressure today to debate and vote on this important piece of legislation, Republicans continued to block debate and full consideration of the issue.

"Unfortunately, Republicans in the Senate don't want the American people to know that their plan doesn't cover two-thirds of privately insured people. They don't want to have to argue why they don't want to make sure families have access to specialized services. They don't want to argue why they don't want to provide doctors with whistleblower protection. They don't want to argue a whole lot of issues that deal with patient protection," Wellstone said. "Instead they want to present people in the country with a piece of legislation with a great title and a great acronym that has no teeth in it, that has no enforcement in it, and that will not provide the protection that people need."