Press Release

Thursday, July 15, 1999

Adrienne Hahn
(202) 462-6262 ext. 1112
Consumers Union's Washington, DC Office





WASHINGTON, DC - As the Senate prepares to approve a controversial bill aimed at reforming health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and other managed care plans, Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, says the bill is a phony cure for what ails millions of people in HMOs.

"The supporters of this bill have put on quite a medicine show to hawk the bill as a cure for problems with HMOs, but the bill would actually do more harm than good," said Adrienne Hahn, legislative counsel for Consumers Union, which is recommending that the president veto the bill.

"The Senate bill would take away the rights of millions of patients who are currently entitled to an independent review of decisions made by their health plans," said Hahn. "18 states have passed laws to ensure that patients have access to a truly independent external review process when they have a dispute with their HMO. But the Senate bill would wipe out the state laws. Under the Senate bill, the health plans are left in charge of choosing the outside body that appoints the reviewer for the patient's claim. That means the very health plans that are being challenged get to select the so-called independent entity that appoints the reviewer. The Senate bill leaves the fox guarding the hen house."

Another fatal flaw in the Senate bill is that it excludes 113 million Americans from the few patient protections contained in the bill. It also fails to provide that managed systems will be held accountable for the quality of care they deliver. All of the other reforms in this bill are virtually meaningless if a patient cannot hold the HMO accountable for its decisions. Plus, under the guise of promoting affordable health insurance coverage, the Senate bill includes an expansion of the Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) demonstration project. MSAs increase the ranks of underinsured consumers who face large out-of-pocket health care costs. MSAs drive-up health care premiums for those seeking traditional low-deductible coverage and even drive them off the market.

"The Senate missed a genuine opportunity to approve meaningful patient protections by not passing S. 6, the real Patient Bill of Rights," said Hahn.


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