While saluting ” the good faith efforts of those who worked to improve the bill,” President Bush still said, “I could not in good conscience sign this bill because it puts the interests of trial lawyers before the interest of patients.”
While the vote was a clear victory for Democrats, they fell short of the two-thirds majority that will be required to overcome a presidential veto.
Republicans Chafee (RI), Collins (Me), DeWine (Oh), Fitzgerald (Il), McCain (Az), Smith (Or), Snowe (Me), Specter (Pa) and Warner (Va) crossed the aisle to vote for the bill.
Senator Jim Jeffords (I-Vt) voted against the bill.
Republican Senators Campbell (Co), Domenici (NM), Gramm (Tx), Lott (Ms) and Murkowski (Ak) did not vote.
The final bill managed to emerge from the debate with several key features intact, including:
- jury awards of up to $5 million in federal court
- unlimited punitive damages under state law
- ensuring that all Americans with insurance have access to emergency care, medical specialists and clinical drug trials
A lingering concern continues to be the increase in costs of health insurance as a result of the bill ? and more importantly, the possible loss of healthcare coverage as a result. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the increased costs to be an extra $1.20/month for each policyholder.
Room For Compromise
Along the way, certain compromises were made, including:
- limits on class action lawsuits against HMOs
- caps on attorney fees
- imposing a waiting period on patients with disputes before bringing a suit
- establishment of a “designated decision-maker” exemption for employers
- providing states some leeway in complying with the proposed standards
- removal of the liability provisions if at least 1 million Americans lost their insurance as a result of the new law
Now To The House
Bush has thrown his support behind a competing measure in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives (H.R. 2315) which imposes lower caps on damage recoveries and provides a limited right to sue in state court. The bill has been touted as an alternative between the McCain-Kennedy bill and one initially put forth by Senators Frist-Breaux-Jeffords (S. 889), which had drawn Bush’s support.
Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said the House would begin work on the legislation by mid-July.
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