Industry Faces Uphill Battles In New Senate Landscape
The political earthquake that shook Washington, D.C. to its core late last month when Senator James Jeffords of Vermont declared his independence from the Republican Party is bound to do damage to the industry’s cause on a number of fronts.
Jeffords’ abrupt party switch turns the Senate upside down, with Democrats displacing Republicans as committee chairmen. Thus, Democrats will control the flow of legislation in the Senate, which means bills near and dear to the hearts of the insurance community may never see the light of day, while others might be introduced that insurers oppose.
One of the most controversial issues affected will be patients’ rights legislation.
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Last month, Jeffords joined with Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Sen. John Breaux, D-La., on a bill that would allow patients to sue their health plans for a limited amount in federal court, but only after they had completed a thorough utilization review process. That measure is likely to gain steam with the suddenly high-profile Jeffords behind it.
Patients’ rights was one issue that seemed to cross party lines, and a bipartisan compromise appeared to be inevitable at some point. However, the right-to-sue provision, if it survived at all, was likely to be toned down in a Republican Senate.
The insurance industry knew it had a sympathetic ear among the Republicans when it argued that allowing lawsuits against health plans would hike liability and litigation costs, thereby pushing already soaring health coverage expenses even higher, and ultimately leaving millions of more people uninsured. They will have a much harder time making their case in a Democratic-controlled Senate.