The bill, dubbed the Patients Bill of Rights, to be introduced by Senator Bill Frist (R – Tennessee) will face opposition from Senators John McCain (R – Arizona) and Edward Kennedy (D – Massachusetts), and John Edwards (D – North Carolina) who favor more sweeping legislation and argue against the limits placed on damages awarded.
Objection to the Cap
The new bill, co-sponsored by Senator John Breaux (D – Louisiana) and Senator Jim Jeffords (R – Vermont) was drawn up in response to a version crafted three months ago by McCain, Kennedy and Edwards, after President Bush and representatives from the managed care industry objected to the provision which allows unlimited damages under state law and jury awards of up to $5 million in federal court.
Opponents of the $5 million cap, not least Bush, who threatened to veto the bill, but primarily insurance companies and health plan providers, argue that the bill would encourage frivolous lawsuits, putting upward pressure on the costs of health care.
As it Stands
As the law now stands, patients have little recourse against HMOs and other health plans. Currently, patients with successful federal lawsuits can only be awarded the value of the medical care denied.
Frist’s bill will require patients to bring their complaint before a review panel created by the legislation, before going to federal court for damages, which would be capped at $500,000. Patients under the new legislation could be awarded an unlimited sum in economic damages, but will not be able to collect punitive awards.
The legislation would not expand patients’ rights to sue in state court, but would allow them to be awarded a larger sum in federal court.
What the pending bills do have in common is a measure that insures that all Americans with private health insurance have access to emergency and specialty care, even at hospitals unaffiliated with their health plans. It also promises patients access to prescription drugs that aren’t covered by their health plan.
While the White House describes the Frist legislation as a model for negotiating a final package of reforms, those in the Kennedy camp believe it lacks broad bipartisan support. The new bill is also expected to face some opposition from the Senate’s GOP leaders who have resisted any expansion of suits against health plans. Nevertheless, President Bush will urge Congress to pass the bill.
An identical measure has been introduced in the House of Representatives by supporters of the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill.
– Camilla Klein firstname.lastname@example.org
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