Copyright 2000 The Atlanta Constitution
Journal and Constitution
June 15, 2000, Thursday, Home Edition
SECTION: Editorial; Pg. 22A
LENGTH: 401 words
Losing our patients with Congress
If health care consumers don't like the fact that HMOs place profits over
patients, they should ask Congress to change the law. Or so says the U.S.
Supreme Court. But the insurance industry's campaign contributions speak louder
than wishes of the people, so Congress has blocked federal legislation to allow
patients to sue their HMOs.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court handed
down a unanimous decision rejecting the right of a patient to hold her HMO
responsible under federal law for poor medical care. (She recovered $ 35,000
from her doctor in a state malpractice action, but since her health plan was an
employer-sponsored one involving a federal law --- the Employer Retirement
Income Security Act --- the matter of HMO liability went to federal court.) The
case, Pegram v. Herdrich, was brought by a woman whose appendix ruptured because
she was required to wait several days for an ultrasound test before getting the
Justice David Souter said federal law doesn't allow
claims by patients against HMOs for treatment decisions. When Congress approved
HMOs, Souter said, it approved the idea of allowing HMOs to hold down health
care costs by giving financial rewards to doctors. In other words, it's OK if
your HMO pays its doctors more money to deny you needed medical care.
Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) has long sought to pass a patients' rights
bill which would include patients' right to sue. (A few states, including
Georgia, already give patients the right to take their HMOs to court. The court
has not yet ruled on whether those state laws are pre-empted by federal law.)
But Norwood's bill doesn't have many Republican backers. He managed to get his
legislation through the House, but Senate Republicans last week rejected a
similar measure on a straight party-line vote. A House-Senate conference
committee isn't likely to deal with the issue prior to the election.
fact that the insurance industry gave nearly $ 4 million in soft money to the
GOP in 1999 --- twice as much as to the Democratic Party --- is worth noting.
Between 1993 and 1998, in fact, the industry poured $ 8 million into GOP coffers
through the soft money loophole in the campaign finance laws.
politicians always deny a connection between campaign contributions and their
votes on issues.
What other reason does the GOP Senate have for not
passing a patients' bill of rights?
LOAD-DATE: June 15, 2000