PBOR Talks Continue ? Debate Timing Uncertain

July 30, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) ? Negotiations continued on the patients' bill of rights proposals Friday, but signs of a workable compromise were still elusive ahead of a possible vote in the House this week.

For the second day in a row, President Bush spoke with Representative Charles Norwood (R-Georgia), chief sponsor of a version currently opposed by the White House. The President has thrown his support behind a competing bill proposed by Kentucky Representative Ernest Fletcher. Fletcher’s version (H.R. 2315) would impose limits on liability and restrict patients’ ability to bring actions in state court.

Bush has threatened to veto the bill proposed by Norwood, claiming that it would drive up the cost of health care ? and add millions of Americans to the ranks of the uninsured.

Sending Signals?

Recently the Bush administration has sent signals of potential compromise, opening the door to state court actions, albeit under federal standards, and raising the liability cap from the $500,000 imposed in the Fletcher version and a comparable version rejected by the Senate last month. However, that proposed cap of $750,000 is well short of the $5,000,000 included in the version passed by the Senate last month and incorporated in the Ganske/Norwood/Dingell version (H.R. 526).

Sponsors of the House bill and a similar Senate-passed measure said Norwood plans to submit a two page list of “questions” critical of the Bush plan to the White House, according to the Associated Press.

Still, House Republican leaders say they hope to schedule the patients’ rights debate ahead of Congress’ month-long recess, which begins on August 3.

Aisle Trial?

Strategies on both sides of the aisle are divided. Republicans are considering pulling the Fletcher bill from consideration but offering provisions regarding state court actions from that bill as an amendment to Norwood/Dingell. That could strip off some Republican support for the Norwood proposal.

Republicans are also expected to propose amendments aimed at helping workers in small businesses get health insurance ? a measure that was rejected by Democrats in the Senate because of its budgetary and procedural implications.

Democrats are torn between those anxious to forge a compromise bill that can gain the President’s signature and those eager to force a veto while gaining an issue for the 2002 election campaign.