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Clinton Establishes Health Care 'Bill Of Rights'


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 20) -- To address growing public frustration with managed health care systems, President Bill Clinton unveiled Friday morning a "consumer bill of rights" for more than 80 million patients covered by federal health care programs.

"This patient's bill of rights is the next important step to make sure every American family has the quality health care all families need to thrive. It's especially important as our health care system continues to change," Clinton said during an event at a senior citizen's center in Wheaton, Md. (320K wav sound)

The president's executive order instructs all federal agencies delivering health care service to bring their regulations and practices in line over the next four years with standards developed by Vice President Al Gore.

The rights are guaranteed to 9 million federal workers and an estimated 75 million people who get their health coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, military, veterans and other government health care programs.

The protections include:

  • Enforceable federal standards for health maintenance organizations and other managed care coverage.
  • Access to health care providers within a reasonable period of time.
  • Guaranteed access to emergency care and specialists.
  • Confidentiality of medical records.
  • An independent appeals process for patients who are unhappy with decisions made by health care providers.

Clinton called on Congress to pass regulations for the private health insurance industry that would provide the same rights to all Americans. He said quality health care should be a "bipartisan American issue, not a partisan political issue."

"We are doing all we can do here with the stroke of the president's pen .... It should be an example that the rest of America should follow. I know there will be voices of opposition in the Congress and in the health care industry. But every American deserves the protection of a patient's bill of rights," Clinton said.

The larger congressional effort is expected to be one of this year's major political battles as both parties seek to win public support heading into the midterm elections.

Republican leaders acknowledge the political power of the managed health care issue but are divided over legislation to respond to it.

The president also praised the efforts of Gore, who joined Clinton at Friday's event. "This is perhaps the best example of all the wonderful work the vice president has done in reinventing the government," Clinton said.

As the president prepared to announce the initiative, aides were grumbling a bit that this initiative and other major policy efforts were getting little attention because of the focus on the Monica Lewinsky investigation and the showdown with Iraq.

"This is a very big deal," said one senior administration official. "This issue will be remembered months from now, even if it is ignored this week."

The "bill of rights" came from the recommendations of a 34-member advisory panel submitted last November. Clinton last spring appointed the group, representing consumers, insurance companies and business.

CNN's John King contributed to this report.

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