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Battle for Patient Protections - Front and Center

As the 106th Congress prepares to close up shop and hit the campaign trail, patients' rights remain a hotly debated and highly partisan issue. The National Partnership continues to lead the effort to keep patients' rights front and center until strong legislation is passed.

Last March, members of a conference committee began working to reconcile the House-passed Norwood-Dingell bill, with a Senate-passed bill that comes up short on patient protections. Conference committee leader Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) pledged to hammer out a final bill by April, but his deadline passed with little progress. Under his leadership, the conference stalled leaving supporters of a meaningful patients' bill of rights to move forward on their own.

On June 8th, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) forced a Senate vote on the Norwood-Dingell patients' bill of rights, which was defeated by only one vote. Norwood-Dingell is the only bill that provides the strong patient protections all Americans need. It holds HMOs accountable when they harm a patient, it provides a fair external appeals process and it applies to all Americans, not just those in the 'right' kind of health plans. Despite its defeat, the slim margin of the vote indicates significant progress for Norwood-Dingell supporters over the past year.

Sen. Don Nickles' (R-OK) efforts to sabotage meaningful managed care reform continued through the summer. Just two weeks after Norwood-Dingell's defeat, he emerged from closed-door talks among Republicans with an inadequate patients' rights bill. He took his bill directly to the Senate floor, where it passed by one vote.

The close, one-vote margin on both bills has re-energized the push to pass Norwood-Dingell this year. The National Partnership, along with many other groups sponsored radio ad campaigns aimed at "no-voting" Senators in six states. Over the July 4th holiday, listeners in Minnesota, Missouri, Washington, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Michigan were urged to call their Senators and tell them to vote yes on Norwood-Dingell. We expect a flurry of calls to local Senate offices, which we hope will make a big difference when our Senate champions take Norwood-Dingell back to the Senate floor.

A June 12 Supreme Court decision underscored the urgent need for immediate Congressional action on patients' rights. The Court concluded that, under current law, patients cannot challenge certain managed care practices in federal court. This ruling means that until Congress passes strong patient protections, it's okay under federal law for HMOs to pay doctors extra to deny care, and to participate in other abuses as well.

As this debate continues to play out, the National Partnership will let you know how you can get involved. Please stay tuned for Action Alerts and be ready to call your Senators or Representatives to let them know you support real patient protections.


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Summer/Fall 2000 Newsletter: Table of Contents


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National Partnership for Women & Families.