Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the importance of passing a meaningful Patients' Bill of Rights package that will ensure that managed care companies cannot put their cost-control measures ahead of the well-being of their patients. This legislation is absolutely vital to protecting the quality of health care for all Americans.
Many of my colleagues have spoken on various aspects of this issue over the past few weeks. But I would like to bring my colleagues' statements ``home'' by speaking a bit about what we mean when we talk about ``Protecting Patients' Rights.'' We are talking about the grim reality that the American health care system is no longer controlled by those who best understand how to treat patients--our physicians.
Instead, managed care companies, primarily HMOs but also other health insurance providers, have become so involved in the business of health care that they control nearly every aspect of health care including where the health care is provided, and by whom. Of greatest concerns to me the most is that these managed care organizations can decide whether that health care can be provided at all--they make the key medical decisions. In other words,, regardless of whether that care is determined to be medically necessary by the physician who is treating you, managed care administrators can override your doctor's medical decisions and refuse to cover the care that you need.
How does this happen? Well, managed care companies control costs by limiting supply--screening which health care providers its enrollees are permitted to see, requiring patients to go through insurance company gatekeepers prior to seeing a specialist, tracking physician practice patterns to ensure that doctors are complying with HMOs' cost-control efforts. Some HMOs go so far as to impose a gag-rule on doctors, prohibiting physicians in their system from discussing treatment options that the HMO administrators deem too expensive.
Managed care companies control how--or even whether--we receive health care. Their control over what goes on in the examination room can be matched only by their significant political clout in Washington, which they've gained in part through generous political donations. Mr. President, during earlier remarks I gave on the Patients' Bill of Rights, I talked about the power special interests wield in the health care debate, but I want to remind my colleagues and the public of those remarks, because I think it's vital that we keep the power of these wealthy interests in mind throughout this discussion.
During the last election cycle, managed care companies and their affiliated groups spent more than $3.4 million on soft money contributions, PAC, and individual contributions--roughly double what they spent during the last mid-term elections.
Managed care giant United HealthCare Corporation gave $305,000 in soft money to the parties, and $65,500 in PAC
money to candidates;
Blue Cross/Blue Shield's national association gave more than $200,000 in soft money and nearly $350,000 in PAC money;
And the managed care industry's chief lobby, the American Association of Health Plans, has given nearly $60,000 in soft money in the last two years.
Mr. President, these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, but I mention them today to present a clearer picture of the power the managed care industry wields in Washington as we debate managed care reform. As we talk here on the floor about why Americans have such an important stake in this body passing the Patients' Bill of Rights, we should also be aware of what a huge stake the industry has in stopping this legislation, and how they have used the campaign finance system to protect their interests.
Regardless of how you feel about any particular Patients' Bill of Rights proposal, I think any reasonable person would agree that an arrangement where someone has financial incentives to deny health care to my family and me--that the very existence of such incentives has to raise flags. As a parent, and as a consumer, I want to be sure that managed care cost-control systems don't compromise the quality of health care for my family and me.
So I want to make it clear that the central goal of protecting patients' rights is to ensure that medical necessity is what drives our health care. That's what we're talking about. We need to be sure that the people making health care decisions are licensed health care professionals, not administrative personnel whose primary mission is to protect their bottom line. I do not think that is an outrageous, pie-in-the-sky goal. I think it's a common sense expectation when I buy health insurance for my family, and I don't think any of my colleagues would demand any less from their own health insurance.
During the year or so since Senators DASCHLE and KENNEDY first introduced the Patients' Bill of Rights, I have had the opportunity to visit every county in my state to speak with my constituents and to find out what issues they care about. I can tell you that health care--the quality of health care, the availability of health care--is consistently one of the top issues that my constituents raise with me. In general, the quality of health care in Wisconsin is quite good. Wisconsin was one of the first states to regulate HMOs as insurance providers, and the state has developed a set of basic, common sense patient protections--many of which are included in S. 6, the Democratic Patients' Bill of Rights.
Mr. President, I would like to share a story that was told to me by a pediatrician who practices in Madison, Wisconsin. This pediatrician told me about a newborn infant she saw who looked
fine upon first examination, but on the second day, the pediatrician detected a heart murmur. Knowing that this newborn urgently needed to see a specialist, the pediatrician immediately called for a referral to a pediatric cardiologist, which in this particular HMO requires first going through an adult cardiologist for the referral to a pediatric specialist. By sheer luck, a pediatric cardiologist happened to be in the hospital on a separate matter and was able to examine the baby.
The pediatric cardiologist ordered an echocardiogram and diagnosed coarctation, a tightening or narrowing of the aorta that is specific to newborns. That pediatric cardiologist happened to be in the right place at the right time--but under usual circumstances, time would have been lost while a referral was sought from an adult cardiologist. As a result, that baby immediately began receiving medication--prostaglandin--intravenously until she could be transported to Children's Hospital in Milwaukee to receive emergency heart surgery. The baby survived and is doing well.
When I heard this story, apart from relief that the baby survived, my first question was, ``What would have happened if you and the baby's parents had to go through the normal processes of the HMO's rules?'' The pediatrician told me that that process, even if expedited, would have taken at least 24 hours, which didn't sound very long until the pediatrician informed me that the untreated coarctation would have resulted in the baby's death within a few hours.
I am greatly relieved and happy that this particular baby was cared for and survived. But what I find frightening, though, is that this baby survived almost as a fluke, in spite of the system. The Patients' Bill of Rights includes a guarantee of access to pediatric specialists. Fortunately for the family of
The patient protections we are talking about ought to be part of the deal when you enroll in health insurance. These are pretty basic concerns, Mr. President, concerns that I think may get obscured sometimes when we get into jargon like ``prudent layperson,'' ``point of service,'' and so on. So when we speak about protecting patients' rights, I want to be clear that we are talking about how to make sure that corporate cost-control concerns don't result in people being denied the care that they need.
I thank the Chair.