Copyright 1999 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
July 16, 1999, Friday, FIVE STAR LIFT EDITION
SECTION: NEWS, Pg. A1
LENGTH: 755 words
SENATE PASSES GOP BILL ON PATIENTS' RIGHTS;
REPUBLICANS KILL DEMOCRATS' MORE
CLINTON WILL VETO IT, AIDES SAYS
BYLINE: From News Services; Deirdre Shesgreen of the
Post-Dispatch's Washington bureau contributed
rolling over Democrats in a week of party-line votes, approved a modest set of
patient protections Thursday aimed at millions of Americans who fear
cost-conscious HMOs may deny them needed care.
"This bill addresses the
real problems many Americans face," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott,
R-Miss. The final vote was 53-47.
Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., who
made a campaign promise last year to work for legislation that would make it
easier to sue HMOs, was one of only two Republicans to vote against the GOP
bill. Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., also joined all 45 Democrats in opposition.
"I believe HMO care would be improved if HMOs were not shielded from the
consequences of any negligent behavior," Fitzgerald said.
next year's elections, Democrats promised to revive the politically potent
issue. Polls suggest Americans overwhelmingly favor new rules for health
maintenance organizations and other managed-care plans, which try to save money
by eliminating unnecessary care.
President Bill Clinton called the bill
unacceptable and aides said he would veto it.
"If Congress insists on
passing such an empty promise to the American people, I will not sign the bill,"
Clinton said in a statement after the vote. "This should be about protecting
patients, not insurance companies."
Still, Republicans noted that
Clinton has changed his position on other issues.
Momentum for a
bipartisan compromise crumbled when Fitzgerald and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,
bolted from it minutes before a news conference announcing the plan. With only
two Republican senators still behind it, the compromise ultimately was not even
Throughout the week, Republicans argued that the Democratic
plan would sharply increase the cost of health insurance.
The final GOP
measure offers an array of new rights to the 48 million Americans whose health
plans are exempt from state regulation. They include easier access to
specialists, emergency rooms and obstetricians-gynecologists. In most cases, the
Democratic provisions are broader and they cover more people.
also is working on HMO legislation, but conflict among Republicans on its scope
has kept it tied up in committee. Last year, the House narrowly passed an HMO
bill, but the Senate failed to act.
Democrats compared the Senate debate
to last month's debate over gun control, predicting that rank-and-file
Republicans would defy their leaders and support at least some of the Democratic
But the GOP majority held firm, never losing more than three
members on any given vote.
While Congress has been able to agree on
other health issues, this week's debate has been the most contentious
congressional fight over health care since Clinton's plan for universal health
coverage died in 1993.
Republicans defeated outright the most sweeping
Democratic proposals, including an effort to apply the new rights to all 161
million Americans with private health insurance and to give doctors final say
over what care is medically necessary.
But on other issues, the GOP
offered modest alternatives. Democrats, for instance, wanted to force insurance
companies to pay for routine health costs when patients go into clinical trials
on experimental treatments. On Thursday, Republicans offered their own version,
which included only cancer trials.
Democrats ridiculed the approach.
"You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig," Sen. Edward Kennedy,
D-Mass., told reporters.
One of the provisions in the GOP version was
offered in an amendment by Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo. It is designed to keep HMOs
from dragging their feet when responding to appeals from patients who have been
denied medical care.
Highlights of the
patients bill of rights
For the 48 million Americans in
health plans that are exempt from state regulation, the bill would:
Prohibit managed care plans from charging patients more for using emergency
rooms outside of the plan.
* Give women direct access to
gynecologists and obstetricians.
* Cover clinical trials for
cancer patients only.
* Require all managed care plans to allow
mastectomy patients to remain in a hospital as long as determined necessary by a
For the 124 million people in most managed care plans, the bill
* Create an appeals process in cases of denial of
* Impose a $ 10,000 fine for managed care plans that do not
comply with the ruling of the external appeals panel.
LOAD-DATE: July 16, 1999