By Dan Danner

If you receive your health care through your employer -- as most insured Americans do -- the recent passage of the Dingell-Norwood legislation in the House of Representatives should have you worried. You might gain the right to sue, but your health care might be on the line as a result.

As the No. 1 provider of health coverage, employers fear the Dingell-Norwood bill would threaten their ability to continue to provide health benefits to their employees. Unfortunately, employers' concerns have been marginal in this important debate.

By expanding liability to health plans and, for the first time, to the employers who sponsor them, the Dingell-Norwood bill would open up new territory ripe for litigating but wrong for a system that, despite its problems, still provides the best health care in the world.

For the average business owner, it means that even if you pay a fair wage, treat your employees with respect and voluntarily provide health care benefits for them, you no longer have any protection from the frivolous lawsuits that have become the bread and butter of many trial attorneys. Unfortunately, long drawn-out lawsuits do not help patients get the care they need when they need it, and research shows that trial lawyers, not patients, walk away with most of the money from malpractice suits.

The likely epidemic of litigation this kind of legislation would generate also would significantly impact most employers' ability to provide health insurance, creating an impossible choice for employers. They could continue to provide health care coverage and risk losing their businesses in a costly lawsuit, or stop offering health care coverage altogether.

In fact, according to a survey of small business owners, six out of 10reported they would be forced to stop providing coverage rather than face this risk. So, if Dingell-Norwood becomes law, patients might gain the right to sue, but lose their health insurance or pay more for their coverage in the process. Add already rising health care costs to this new threat of expensive litigation, and it's clear that this provision is a prescription for disaster.

The Census Bureau recently reported that the number of uninsured Americans has climbed to 44.3 million. The only good news in the Census figures was that employers provided health care coverage to significantly more Americans last year. However, if Dingell-Norwood becomes law, this trend would most definitely reverse -- swelling the number of uninsured even more and threatening the employer-provided health care coverage now enjoyed by more than 150 million Americans.

Real health care quality begins with covering as many people as possible --not forcing millions more into the ranks of the uninsured. We hope the final legislation that comes out of the conference committee will not pull the rug out from under America's employer-sponsored health care system or the millions of employees who depend on it.

Dan Danner is chairman of the Health Benefits Coalition, which has sponsored several ads critical of patients' rights bills.