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Copyright 2000 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.  
Chicago Sun-Times

October 02, 2000, MONDAY, Late Sports Final Edition


LENGTH: 318 words

HEADLINE: Opponents differ on patients' right to sue care plans

BYLINE: Jim Ritter

For patients frustrated at dealing with HMOs and other health plans, Al Gore and George W. Bush both promise to support a broad range of new protections.

The Bush campaign brags that a patients bill of rights that became law in Texas during his governorship is "considered as the most comprehensive in the country."

Gore supports a patient protection bill pending in Congress. "There's an emergency in America, all right, and it's the lack of a strong enforceable patients bill of rights," he said.

These are among the rights both candidates support:

Health maintenance organizations cannot prohibit doctors from freely discussing treatment options with patients.

Women should be able to see an obstetrician-gynecologist without a referral.

HMOs must pay for emergency room visits for cases a reasonable person would consider an emergency.

If a plan denies coverage, a patient can appeal to an independent review panel.

These rights were included in a bill the Texas Legislature passed in 1997.

But Bush opposed another provision that gave patients the right to sue HMOs. "I have concerns about opening the door to new tort actions," he said at the time.

Because he had mixed feelings about the bill, Bush allowed it to become law without his signature.

Gore is a strong supporter of the Norwood-Dingell bill pending in Congress that includes the above rights, plus the right to sue. The Gore campaign said health plans should be held accountable "for decisions that cause injury or death."

Interest groups are lobbying hard on both sides of the issue. "There is not a single other industry that is immune to suits by individuals it injures," said Carlton Carl of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

But Karen Ignagni of the American Association of Health Plans said providing the right to sue would "create a blank check for trial lawyers -- at the expense of consumers."

GRAPHIC: See related stories pages 6-7.

LOAD-DATE: October 03, 2000

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