Press Release

January 7, 1999

Contact: 202/462-6262
Adrienne Mitchem, mitcad@consumer.org
Consumers Union's Washington, DC Office

Consumers Union Pleased to See Managed Care Reform Debate Move Forward

WASHINGTON -- Following is a statement from Adrienne Mitchem, legislative counsel at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, reacting to the introduction of the Access to Quality Care Act of 1999 by Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga.:

Consumers Union looks forward to working with members of the 106th Congress to make meaningful managed consumer protections a reality. Approximately 161 million Americans are currently enrolled in managed care plans. All of those patients, regardless of the way their insurance is financed, deserve minimum consumer protections.

Consumers Union was pleased to see the managed care reform debate move forward in the House today with the introduction of the Access to Quality Care Act of 1999 by Representative Charles Norwood. Although we would recommend certain changes to strengthen the bill, this proposal is a notable improvement over the inferior measure that cleared the House of Representatives last summer. Congress needs to pass the original Patients' Bill of Rights Act so doctors, not accountants, call the shots when patients get sick.

Mr. Norwood's legislation shows improvement because it allows consumers to hold plans accountable for negligent behavior that results in injury or death. Unless the managed care system is held accountable for its decisions the system will continue to have a financial incentive to put profits ahead of patient care. Compensatory damages act as an important counter-balance to the tendency, for financial reasons, to under-treat which plagues the current health care market.

One section of the bill which demands strengthening is the external appeals process if care is denied, terminated or delayed. It is vital that this right of appeal is truly independent. This bill falls short because it gives managed care plans too much say in selecting and paying for the external review. Another shortcoming of the bill is the "information fee scheme." Today's consumers already face an uphill battle when it comes to getting sufficient information to make wise health care choices. Slapping new fees on this sort of information is a very bad idea.

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