Copyright 1999 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company
The Houston Chronicle
October 14, 1999, Thursday 3 STAR EDITION
SECTION: A; Pg. 33
HEADLINE: Congress risks destroying managed
care to save it
BYLINE: JERRY J. JASINOWSKI;
Jasinowski, based in Washington, D.C., is president of the National Association
of Manufacturers, the nation's largest broad-based industry trade group
ANYONE who has ever seen a loved one in a
hospital bed knows the importance of high-quality, affordable and accessible
health care. The stakes involved, both human and political, are why Washington
is debating health-care reform with such intensity.
The recent House
passage of anti-managed-care legislation is a case in point. The measure that
passed, offered by U.S. Reps. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., and John Dingell, D-Mich.,
is popularly called "the Patient's Bill of Rights." But however
appealingly named, this bill would only inflict serious wounds on the existing
In the name of consumer protection, Congress is
poised to embark on an unprecedented regulation of the health-insurance
marketplace - to the dangerous consequences of America's employees. At present,
American businesses provide health care voluntarily to their employees. No less
than 129 million Americans get their health care through employer-based plans.
According to Census Bureau figures released earlier this month, there
has been a sharp increase in the number of employers offering medical insurance
to their workers, even as the ranks of the uninsured increase due to rising
health-care costs. But if the anti-managed-care bill passed by the House is
signed into law by the president, the employer-based health-insurance system
would be placed at serious risk and the ranks of the uninsured would actually
Employers are understandably concerned with provisions in the
pending legislation that would make them liable for personal injury and
wrongful-death lawsuits. Such liability would be a field day for trial lawyers
eager to sue companies for the real or imagined medical-insurance problems of
Employers, hit hard by the costs of litigation, would
be forced to pay a significantly higher rate for the insurance they provide.
These costs would be passed on to the consumer and would prevent increases in
employee compensation. In some cases, companies would simply stop providing
health insurance to their workers.
Of course, the anti-managed-care
bills claim to shield employers from health-care liability. But they expressly
would subject employers to liability lawsuits if the employer exercises any
"discretionary authority" over the health plan, which is the very essence of the
fiduciary responsibility the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act
places on all private health-care plans. No employer would be eligible for the
In addition, these plans would dramatically increase the role
of government in the health-care system, something rejected by the American
people several years ago when the president's proposed government takeover of
our medical system collapsed like a deflated zeppelin.
Norwood-Dingell plan contains hundreds of new government mandates. It would
regulate the private medical-care system to an unprecedented degree.
Managed care is working much better than its opponents like to admit.
According to the Labor Department, physicians acknowledge that existing plans
approve coverage of 97 percent of recommended treatments. And virtually every
survey indicates a 90 percent satisfaction rate when people are asked about the
quality of care they receive.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates
that the Norwood-Dingell plan would drive up premium costs by more than 6
percent annually. Combine this with the costs of lawsuits and new regulations,
and many private insurers - namely, America's employers - will be priced out of
offering medical insurance to their workers, thereby increasing the number of
Kentucky offers a disturbing lesson to those who wish to
impose sweeping changes to our health-care system. In 1996, the Kentucky
Legislature passed sweeping, regulation-heavy "reform" legislation similar to
that proposed for the country as a whole by President Clinton in 1994. There
were then 45 insurance companies writing medical insurance policies for private
citizens in the Bluegrass State.
Within months, only two companies
remained. Why? Costs soared as premiums rose and litigation flooded the courts.
The Kentucky Legislature finally repealed or modified its well-intended
"reforms" so that ordinary Kentuckians could again have access to health care -
although, to date, only one additional health-insurance carrier has resumed
doing business in the state.
No one claims that managed care is perfect,
which is why more modest reforms like those passed earlier this year in the
Senate are worth considering. It is my hope that when House and Senate
negotiators meet to discuss their very different legislation, legislation
without the damaging provisions I've noted will be adopted.
great majority of the time, managed care works. In the name of compassion,
opponents of managed care want to destroy the existing system. And in this
instance, especially, good intentions are more than inadequate. They could well
TYPE: Editorial Opinion
LOAD-DATE: October 28, 1999