“The idea is to support patients, not to create more lawsuits in America,” the president said, speaking at the 21 st Century Workforce Summit. “The law should allow the review process to work, not to short-circuit it by inviting unnecessary lawsuits,” he said.
The President’s remarks came as the Senate began discussions regarding competing notions of patient protection legislation.
He specifically congratulated Senators Breaux, Frist and Jeffords with their efforts to come up with what he called a “reasonable package.” That bill calls for independent panels to review patient complaints about denied health care and places caps on non-economic damages.
The president urged Congress to finalize legislation this year. “Before this year is over, I want to sign into law a patients’ bill of rights,” he said.
Bush reiterated what he considers key elements of a viable bill, including:
- It must cover everyone, including “all patients in all private health plans
- Insurers must be forced to pay for reasonable emergency room treatments, specialists, obstetrician-gynecologists, pediatricians, as well as participation in clinical trials when standard treatments are not effective
- Patients must be given a “fair and immediate review” by an independent panel of physicians if an insurer denies medical care.
The White House opposes a bill introduced by Senators Kennedy and McCain, which the administration and many employers fear will lead to higher health care costs, in permitting higher damage awards and adjudication in state courts. Bush did not refer to their bill in his speech.
Bush also urged Congress to pass the education bill before the fall school season starts. “Congress needs to finish this work,” the president said, recalling the recent 91-8 Senate vote in favor of his education proposal. The proposal is now in conference between the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Bush drew a standing ovation for his speech from an audience of labor and union representatives in Washington’s MCI Center, normally a basketball venue. The president invited laughs when he hinted at Senator Jeffords’ recent split with the Republican party, stressing that Jeffords is now an Independent. “I spend a lot of quality time with members of Congress these days,” Bush joked.
The president’s speech kicked off a series of speeches and panel discussions led by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. The Workforce Summit coincides with the creation of an Office of the 21 st Century Workforce and the appointment of a presidential counsel, with the specific task to advise Bush on labor issues.
– John van Rosendaal firstname.lastname@example.org
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