AFSCME Urges Congress to Pass Bill
Protecting Health Care Workers, Consumers
The Patients’ Bill of Rights — legislation to curb abuses in
managed care — must include protections for health care workers who
point out the system’s shortcomings, and must also prevent the
industry from making decisions that might interfere with the
provision of quality care. This is what AFSCME is telling lawmakers.
A petition to Congress on the measure (S. 6/H.R. 358) has been
posted on AFSCME’s home page at www.afscme.org. By clicking on the
petition site, AFSCME members can sign this electronic petition
urging Congress to pass a real Patients’ Bill of Rights which
includes “whistleblower” protection for health care workers.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)
have reintroduced a bill that has strong enforceable protections for
consumers and health care workers. Republican leaders in the House
and Senate have introduced their own bills, but they would do little
to protect consumers or workers. In fact, the Senate Republican
leadership bill (S. 300) doesn’t cover public employees.
AFSCME, along with other unions and consumer organizations, has
been pressing Congress since 1997 to pass strong protections. In
addition to whistleblower protection, legislation must guarantee
that managed care bureaucrats and insurance company accountants are
not allowed to arbitrarily overturn treatment decisions by health
care professionals. Patients denied care by plans must be able to
appeal the decision to an independent board of experts, and the
board’s decision must be binding. Finally, plans must be held
accountable for decisions which injure patients.
The dramatic growth of enrollment in health maintenance
organizations (HMOs) and other forms of managed care plans has
transformed the health care industry, changing how health care
services are paid for and delivered. In 1980, 90 percent of
Americans were covered by traditional fee-for-service plans. Today,
three-quarters of working families are enrolled in an HMO, preferred
provider organization or some other form of managed care. Public
programs like Medicare and Medicaid are either encouraging or
requiring participants to switch to managed care plans.
The shift to managed care has been accompanied by another trend:
the expansion of for-profit businesses into managed care. Both of
these trends have created strong incentives for reducing costs and
cutting corners throughout the health care industry.
More and more, managed care plans are sending patients home too
early from hospitals and nursing homes, denying patients access to
specialists and blocking emergency treatment. Workers and families
are increasingly insecure about whether quality care will be there
when they face a crisis.