Today’s Health Care Check-Up: — July 10, 2000

Following is a letter to the editor appearing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on July 7 authored by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA). It does an excellent job explaining the serious negative consequences the Kennedy-Dingell-Norwood patients’ bill of rights would have on America’s health care system:

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 unconscionable.

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 recover damages.

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.

Slade Gorton
U.S. Senator

Oppose the Kennedy-Dingell-Norwood Patients’ Bill of Rights