Copyright 1999 The Atlanta Constitution
Journal and Constitution
October 7, 1999, Thursday, Home Edition
SECTION: News; Pg. 14A
LENGTH: 567 words
Patients Bill of Rights just won't let go
BYLINE: Tom Baxter, Staff
"Dead on arrival" was the prognosis last year when Georgia Republican
Charlie Norwood and Michigan Democrat John Dingell introduced a House bill that
would allow patients to sue the companies that run their managed care plans and
name their doctors.
To some it was effrontery for the Augusta dentist,
now in his third House term, to defy Republican orthodoxy so openly on touchy
issues. With so much insurance company money lined up to stoke the campaign
against it, the Norwood-Dingell measure was an at-risk bill.
patient has proven to be quite robust.
Even as the so-called
Patients Bill of Rights measure awaited a vote this week with
enough votes on paper to give it a majority, grave concerns were being voiced
over its survival. But at this stage of the treatment, it was clear that simply
bludgeoning it to death, the first strategy employed, wasn't going to work.
Instead President Clinton, who supports the bill, warned Wednesday from
the Rose Garden that it was under threat from a "poison pill." The malady might
have been described as a legislative aneurysm. The bill lacked a cost analysis
stating where the money was going to be raised, and while the bill's sponsors
had one prepared, a rule prohibited them from adding it as an amendment.
This legislative maneuvering could drive Democrats away from the bill
and affect the vote, expected today, while other procedural tactics could mean
it doesn't come to a vote at all. Whatever its fate, however, Norwood-Dingell
has had a profound effect. At a time when there aren't many contenders, this
bill has had the greatest impact of any written by a Georgian in the last few
That became evident Tuesday when House Speaker Dennis Hastert
threw his support to a Republican alternative bill that would allow a more
limited procedure for suing HMOs in federal rather than state courts.
While expressing regret at having to do so, Hastert became the first
Republican leader to endorse the idea of allowing patients to sue. A gulf of
practical differences separate the two bills, but the dentist has already won
the philosophical ground.
The condition of the political ground could be
judged by the keen attention of all the television networks to a breakfast
fund-raiser this week at which insurance lobbyists arrived with checks for
Hastert and others. Not that such scenes aren't common these days, but the
timing made this a photo-op for campaign finance reform.
There was more
proof of the impact of Norwood-Dingell in the debate that was penciled in ahead
of the one over patient rights: the problems of America's uninsured, a subject
that has suffered for attention since the demise of the Clinton health care
Democrats and Republicans divided sharply over the legislation,
which passed on a party-line vote Wednesday. The bill is designed to make health
care more affordable for the uninsured through a system of tax breaks. But
scheduling the debate on this bill in an attempt to deflect the subject from
patient's rights only serves to focus attention on health care as a larger
The Clinton health care debacle helped to send many in the
Republican majority --- including Charlie Norwood --- to Washington. It also
left a host of issues, which the vote on the often battered but highly resilient
Norwood- Dingell bill will only partially resolve.
Rep. Charlie Norwood
LOAD-DATE: October 7, 1999