The Pressure is on for Patient Protections
In the wake of a divisive impeachment trial, some pundits predicted legislators would forge a bipartisan alliance to pass important legislation that had languished during much of the 105th Congress. Yet even as the groundswell of public support for patient protection legislation was finding traction in statehouses around the country, politicking in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee was dispelling notions of bipartisan cooperation on patients' rights.
On March 18, after repeatedly voting down changes that would have created meaningful protections for millions of Americans, the HELP Committee passed the Republican leadership's hollow managed care bill (S. 326) in a straight party-line vote (10-8). New analysis posted on the National Partnership's web site, www.nationalpartnership.org, clearly illustrates the shortcomings of the House and Senate leadership proposals.
Among other flaws, the Senate leadership bill, which should go to the floor for a vote later this spring, extends most of its meager protections to just a fraction of the people who need them. But even those people covered by the Senate proposal lose out. The Senate bill doesn't ensure that treatment decisions - such as how long a patient stays in the hospital - are made by the patient's healthcare provider, or that patients can have access to outside specialists when their plan can't meet their needs. It doesn't prohibit plans from denying access to clinical trials or ensure that doctors and nurses can report quality problems without retaliation. And while the Senate leadership's bill includes a provision for external appeals, it also contains loopholes that allow plans themselves to control so-called "external reviews" and doesn't offer a legal remedy when this system fails patients.
In the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has said patients' rights will be debated, but it is unknown how his tenure as the leadership's point person on health care in the 105th Congress will influence the debate. House committees with jurisdiction over this legislation have begun hearings on patient protections, but whether any bill will move forward is far from clear.
The House and Senate leadership have yet to put forward a bill with meaningful patient protections. But the National Partnership and other health care advocates have forced debate on the weaknesses of their proposals -- a debate the Republican leadership studiously avoided throughout the last session of Congress.
To keep the pressure on, the National Partnership, along with more than 30 other national organizations, is hosting an online petition for a real patients' bill of rights. The petition was launched as the centerpiece of a nationwide day of events on April 9 highlighting grassroots support for managed care reform. These events involved a press conference in Washington, DC where members of Congress signed the petition. Later that day, members of Congress and leaders of several national organizations, including National Partnership President Judith L. Lichtman, joined President Clinton in Philadelphia for a spirited HMO Reform Rally. More than 100 members of Congress held petition-launching events in districts all around the country.
While it is difficult to predict the course of patient protection legislation over the next several months, there is no doubt it will be among the hottest topics debated this session.
Stay tuned! As floor votes approach, we expect to call upon our Action Council members to weigh in with their elected officials on this important issue for women and families. If you would like more information on how to become involved with the Action Council, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Partnership for Women & Families.