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2001-06-21

As the Senate Debates a Patient’s Rights Bill, a Debate Between a Doctor Who Advocatesuniversal Health Care, and a Spokesperson for the Largest HMO Lobbying Association

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The Senate began debate this week on legislation that would define the rights of patients in a health care systemincreasingly dominated by giant managed care corporations. The debate over patients rights has "triggered a lobbyingwar of near epic proportions," according to one watchdog group, reminiscent of the political battle over the modestClinton health care plan of 1993, which the insurance industry spent nearly $100 million trying to defeat.

The major bill under consideration in the Senate (sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy, John Edwards, and JohnMcCain) would cover all Americans with private health insurance. It would guarantee patients access to emergencycare, medical specialists, clinical trials, and independent medical review of claims denials. The bill would alsogive patients broad rights to sue HMO’s and other insurers when health care is improperly denied. House Republicansyesterday introduced a competing bill giving patients more limited rights to sue.

The main Senate bill is opposed by the health insurance lobby, the giant law firms that represent them, and majorbusiness groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. They say that an expansive patientsrights bill would drive up health care costs and even force small businesses to drop their health care plans.Supporters of the bill include the American Medical Association and an array of consumer and patient advocacy groups.They argue that patients need greater protection from giant health care corporations whose profits depend on limitingthe services that doctors can provide.

But many health care activists charge that the debate over patients’ rights doesn’t go far enough, and amounts to, asone put it, "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

The debate over the patients’ bill of rights is just as notable for what it leaves out. Polls have consistentlyshown that a majority of Americans favor a single-payer system of national health care, yet the media discussion ofpatients’ rights as did the debate over the Clinton health care plan in 1993 has excluded all discussion of universalhealth care. The United States spends nearly twice as much as Europe and Canada on health care yet provides theworst care in the industrialized world for the poor and uninsured.

Guests:

  • Jamie Court, Executive Director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, and author of??Making a Killing: HMOs and the Threat to Your Health.
  • Susan Pisano, Vice President for Communication for the AAHP, primary representative organization and thelargest for managed care in the US. More than 1,000 members, provide care for 150 million.
  • Quentin Young, National Coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program, former head of theAmerican Public Health Association.

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