Reforms should not come at expense of the uninsured
I'm writing in response to your June 22 editorial "Don't compromise
patient lawsuits." Let me be clear. I am on record supporting a Patients'
Bill of Rights that extends basic protections such as access to
specialists and coverage of emergency room visits. I do not believe,
however, that those reforms should come at the expense of increasing the
ranks of the uninsured.
The Kennedy bill to which your editorial referred would allow not only
health plans to be sued but employers who take on the risk of providing
health care for their employees would also be subject to open-ended,
potentially frivolous lawsuits. The result? Half the companies that now
provide health care benefits to their employees and their families
indicate that they will drop coverage if they are liable simply for
offering health insurance. Add to that statistic two independent studies
that estimate the increased premium costs generated by the Kennedy
proposal would put insurance out of reach for 1.2 million Americans. It
would create almost 34,000 newly uninsured in Washington state. That's
There is a better way. Patient care should be the first priority.
Patients should be able to access both a timely internal review and an
independent external review so patients receive care when they need it,
not at the end of a lengthy court dispute when it may be too late. Health
care decisions should be made by doctors, not by lawyers. But, patients
must also have recourse if their health plan makes a decision that harms
their health. In cases where substantial harm occurs and the external
review disagreed with the plans' action, patients should be able to
Congress can enact common sense reform this year. But it can be done
only if each side is willing to put partisan interests aside and look for
compromise. I believe by implementing a balanced, common sense approach on
liability, we can pass a Patients' Bill of Rights that assures consumer
protection while maintaining access to affordable health care.