Bipartisan group renews Patients' Bill of Rights debate
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers renewed their fight to enact protections for patients in managed care health plans Tuesday -- picking up a new, high-profile sponsor in Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, while losing a chief Republican sponsor of the past, Rep Charlie Norwood, R-Georgia, under pressure from the White House.
"We have developed a plan that puts aside partisan politics and allows us to begin the dialogue necessary for passing a bipartisan bill this year that provides patients with the health care protections that they deserve and want," said McCain.
But Norwood, the top GOP House sponsor of past legislation who bucked his party last Congress in pushing for HMO reform, took his name off this version of the so-called "Norwood-Dingell" legislation at the behest of Bush administration officials who want to set their own timetable for debating the issue.
"The Clinton administration had eight years to work on this. The Bush administration has been in office 16 days, and I firmly believe they need a little more time than that to give us an indication of what he would like to see in patients' rights legislation before we launch an all-out effort to pass a final bill," said Norwood in a written statement.
Rep. Greg Ganske of Iowa, the sole remaining GOP House sponsor, told reporters he and Norwood spent about three hours Monday at the White House explaining their proposal to senior Bush adviser Karl Rove and other officials.
Ganske told reporters "the suggestion was made" by White House officials that "we hold off."
"They expressed their concerns about going ahead with this," Ganske said, but were not specific in their objections.
"When I would bring up this section or that section and would ask specifically, 'What do you want?', they were not prepared to say," said Ganske.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer denied Bush officials put pressure on Norwood or Ganske to hold off on introducing the legislation.
The new version of legislation, crafted by Norwood, Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, Sen. John Edwards, D-North Carolina, and McCain, tries to reach a compromise on a patient's ability to sue in federal court, the most contentious issue in the debate. It directs that suits are to be exhausted by state courts before reaching a federal level and caps any reward from a federal suit at $5 million.
Opponents of the bill say it will open the floodgates for lawsuits against health insurance companies and in turn raise patients' rates.
Sponsors sought to deny such claims, telling reporters suits would be a last ditch effort following a lengthy internal appeals process for patents who feel wronged by their insurance company.
Lawmakers said they tried to craft this version of patients bill of rights to mirror Texas law, which Bush said was a good model on the campaign trail.
Legislation on a patients' bill of rights stalled in a yearlong House-Senate conference in the last Congress over two major issues: the right of a patient to sue an HMO in federal court and whether federal protections would cover all Americans with managed care insurance or just those with plans governed by federal law.
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