Copyright 1999 The Buffalo News
The Buffalo News
November 8, 1999, Monday, CITY EDITION
SECTION: EDITORIAL PAGE, Pg. 1B
LENGTH: 457 words
Just in case
you still thought Congress was interested in representing you:
Speaker Dennis Hastert last week rigged the membership of a conference committee
on managed-care reform in a blatant attempt to deny Americans
the right to sue their HMOs for damages caused by denial of care.
intense political pressure, the House and Senate finally paid attention to
Americans' concerns about managed care this year, each passing its own reform
bill. While the Senate legislation did not grant the right to sue, the House
version did, but not because the scales suddenly fell from the eyes of the
Republican leadership. It happened because rank-and-file Republicans repudiated
their leadership and joined Democrats to approve the measure.
practice is for Congress to name a conference committee to iron out differences
between competing bills before sending a final measure to the president for
approval or veto. What is not normal is for one of the chambers to stack the
committee in order to sabotage its own bill. But then, this is not a normal
Time after time, Hastert has shown himself to be speaker in name
only. On such high-profile subjects as gun control and support of American
action in Kosovo, Hastert has taken a back seat to Majority Whip Tom DeLay, a
radical in Republican's clothing. It's not clear at this point if DeLay is
pulling Hastert's strings on this matter or if the speaker really believes
Americans should be denied access to the courts when they suffer harm because of
an HMO's refusal to authorize necessary care.
Not that it matters.
Hastert's action is a slap in the face of voters either way. A 1998 poll by Time
and CNN showed that 63 percent of Americans want this recourse, while a survey
last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 60 percent of employers
support giving them that right.
So why would House leaders object? You
might have thought that after the drubbing congressional Republicans took in the
1998 elections, their leaders would have learned at least to pretend to respect
the public's wishes. Not these guys. They want what they want, and what they
want more than anything is the kind of money that HMOs and other lobbyists can
Since 1997, HMOs have given $ 629,000 in "soft money"
contributions to Republicans and $ 367,000 to Democrats, according to Common
Cause. Other health insurers gave $ 1.1 million to Republicans and $ 443,000 to
Democrats. It's a powerful incentive to try to fix the game, and that's what
Hastert has done.
Sometimes, politicians can do that without being found
out. This time, it's out in the open. It was an underhanded move Hastert and his
party masters made -- one they could rue next November.
LOAD-DATE: November 10, 1999