Bush, Norwood Reach Agreement on PBOR

August 2, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) ? President Bush and Representative Charles Norwood (R-Georgia) say they have reached agreement on the approach for the passage of a patients' bill of rights in the House ? but not everyone agrees with their conclusion.

Still, the apparent reconciliation of positions with Norwood, long a champion of patients’ rights legislation, is a major victory for Bush and may bring with it the necessary support ? and modifications ? to a version of the bill supported by the President. Previously Bush has said he supports the approach of H.R. 2315, co-sponsored by Reps. Fletcher and Peterson.

On the other hand the move could lead to versions in the House and Senate that cannot ? or will not ? be reconciled, leaving the issue unresolved until after the 2002 elections.

Details of the Compromise

Reports circulated that the agreement would allow patients to file lawsuits against health maintenance organizations and insurers in state courts ? but under federal standards. Critics have said this restriction would impinge on state laws that attempt to provide those protections.

In addition, patients would be able to win awards for non-economic damages up to $1.5 million, three times higher than the $500,000 included in other bills supported by the President.

Additionally, lawsuits against large US employers that run their own health plans would go to federal court rather than a state court.

Emotional Issue

Emotions have run high on both sides of the debate, which has struggled for a way to hold HMOs accountable for decisions which create patient suffering while at the same time trying to avoid unduly raising costs and decreasing coverage by the private sector.

Norwood was an early and enthusiastic supporter of patients’ rights ? and co-sponsored a version that enjoyed significant support in the Congress last year. Unlike current co-sponsors Representatives Ganske (R-Iowa) and Dingell (D-Michigan), Norwood held back supporting his old bill while allowing the White House time to establish its position.

However, once those conditions were outlined, Norwood returned his support to the bill that had borne his name for so long.

The response of Norwood’s former partners ran the gamut from a “wait-and-see” perspective to that of bill co-sponsor and fellow Republican Greg Ganske, who said, “Charlie cut his own deal with the White House. At this point there is no deal as far as our coalition is concerned.”

Still, the agreement with Norwood likely means that the debate will at least begin this week, rather than wait until after the August recess.