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Copyright 2000 The Kansas City Star Co.  

September 12, 2000, Tuesday METROPOLITAN EDITION


LENGTH: 492 words

HEADLINE: Patients' rights fight focuses on Missouri;
Votes by Ashcroft and Bond are crucial

BYLINE: ALAN BAVLEY; The Kansas City Star

A patient-advocacy group Monday called on Missouri's two
Republican senators to support a patients' bill of rights they had
previously voted against.

"The real patients' bill of rights is being held hostage in the
Senate," Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for
Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said at a news conference in Kansas
City. "Either of these senators from Missouri could set (it) free."

The Norwood-Dingell patients' rights bill passed the House of

It failed in the Senate by a close vote. U.S. Sens. Kit Bond and
John Ashcroft of Missouri voted against it.

A second Senate vote is expected this month. Court said the shift
of a single vote would ensure passage.

The Norwood-Dingell bill would greatly expand the number of
persons allowed to sue their insurance plans for damages if they are
refused services covered by their policies.

Opponents of the bill argue it would raise the cost of health
care, forcing some employers to stop providing coverage to workers.

Court said the cost would be small; just the threat of lawsuits
would serve as a deterrent to insurance companies from denying

"We don't expect lawsuits to be used," Court said. "But it
makes a tremendous difference in the amount of respect given to

Having the right to sue would have helped in fighting her HMO
when it denied her daughter, Sophia, therapy for autism, April
McCormick said at the news conference.

McCormick said her HMO sent her daughter to doctors who were
unqualified to evaluate or treat autism and refused to authorize
payment for therapy.

"It took a great toll on my emotional health and my family's
life," the Independence woman said. "No one should have to go
through what my family did just to get treatment."

Court was optimistic that at least one of the senators up for
re-election this November who voted against the bill would change his
vote. That could be Ashcroft, he said.

Ashcroft is in a close race with Democratic opponent, Missouri
Gov. Mel Carnahan.

"I think (Ashcroft) should, and I think he will, change his
vote," Court said, "given the heat on this issue politically."

Ashcroft spokesman Greg Harris said the senator considered the
Norwood-Dingell bill "a good effort, an important contribution to
the debate."

"He wants to see a strong patients' bill of rights passed by the
Senate, so decisions are made by doctors and patients and not
insurance claims adjusters."

However, legislation must protect employers from lawsuits, Harris
said. "We can't expose employers to legal liability when they don't
do anything wrong."

Bond's office issued a statement from the senator that he
supported a strong patients' rights bill, "but the Norwood-Dingell
bill is the wrong way to do that because it puts health care
decisions in the courtroom instead of the doctor's office."

LOAD-DATE: September 12, 2000

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