Copyright 2000 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
August 16, 2000, Wednesday, FIVE STAR LIFT
SECTION: EDITORIAL, Pg. B7
LENGTH: 580 words
FEDERAL LAW WOULD ENDANGER EMPLOYER-PAID INSURANCE PLANS
BYLINE: James Stutz
DURING his recent visit to Columbia, Mo.,
President Bill Clinton expressed support for the Norwood-Dingell Patient
Bill of Rights passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last fall.
He compared this legislation to the Missouri Patient Bill of
Rights, signed by the governor in 1997, and said the federal
legislation should echo the Missouri law.
Now that Congress has recessed
with this issue still in question, we have an opportunity to evaluate and
challenge this comparison. Though the two legislative proposals differ in
several important ways, the key difference is critical -- the Missouri law
contains no expansion of employer liability. In contrast, the Norwood-Dingell
bill would expose employers of all sizes to new liability in state courts for,
in many cases, voluntarily offering health coverage to their workers. This
provision creates a huge risk to the continued availability of
employer-sponsored health coverage for working Americans.
The St. Louis
Area Business Health Coalition was very involved in the debate on the Missouri
Patient Bill of Rights. For those who would advocate that
Missouri should be a model for the federal law on the issue of expanded employer
liability, we agree. This one provision, expanded employer liability, has the
potential to change the debate in the federal proposal from one of patient
protection to one of a public policy signal on the future of employer-based
private health insurance in this country.
In the Norwood-Dingell bill,
employers would face a new and apparently unlimited liability exposure as a
consequence of sponsoring health plans. Importantly, in the early to mid-1990s,
when faced with significant increases in financial liability because of changes
in retiree health accounting standards, some employers limited or stopped
sponsoring retiree health plans. A similar response to employer-sponsored
employee health benefits could occur if new, costly employer legal liability
IN its current form the Norwood-Dingell legislation has the
* Further inflate health-care costs to consumers
* Drive even more people to the ranks of the
* Encourage employers to drop coverage rather than face this
new cloud of unpredictable and expanded employer liability cost.
Especially discourage small employers who are considering coverage for the first
time from taking on new health benefit risks.
So, what can federal
legislators and the president learn from our experience in Missouri? The
House-passed Norwood-Dingell approach will need major changes as it goes through
the full legislative process. We believe the top of that list of changes should
be removal of this new employer liability.
To push this federal bill
through because of election year politics without making these important changes
could undermine the future of our private employer-based health care system and
that would be poor public policy. Even the Hippocratic Oath says, "First do no
harm." I believe most employees who receive their health benefits through an
employer would not favor putting that system's future at further risk as the
Norwood-Dingell bill does.
If proponents of the Norwood-Dingell bill,
including the president, are serious about looking to the "Show Me State" for an
example of how to develop and pass a patient protection act, they should begin
by not including this expanded employer liability provision.
LOAD-DATE: August 16, 2000