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Battle Over Patients Rights Bills Heats Up

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The new Democratic Senate leadership is preparing to revive the patients rights battle by bringing S. 283, one of two major, competing patients rights bills, to the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has identified S. 283, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., as a top legislative priority.

The Health Insurance Association of America, Washington, is reacting by preparing an analysis suggesting that S. 283 would allow virtually unlimited damages both in federal and in state courts.

The Health Benefits Coalition, Washington, which represents employers, has announced a series of television, radio and print advertisements attacking the liability provisions in S. 283.

The major difference between S. 283 and S. 889, the bill supported by President Bush, is treatment of health plan liability.

S. 283 would allow patients to sue health plans for damages under state law.

S. 889 would allow patients to sue to recover both economic and noneconomic damages, but cap noneconomic damage awards at $500,000.

Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., a leader in developing House patients rights legislation, is supporting the House counterpart to S. 283, H.R. 526.

Norwood had been holding off on formally endorsing H.R. 526. “While the issue was still on the back burner, I felt we had time to try to create a bill that would have universal support from Congress and the White House,” he says.

But now, he says, the issue has re-emerged, and everyone has to make a choice on what to support.

Norwood calls H.R. 526/S. 283 the only legislation “that guarantees a patient will find justice if they are injured or killed from improperly denied care.”

Meanwhile, Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sam Johnson, R-Texas, have issued a joint statement attacking the new interest in H.R. 526.

“We are deeply disturbed at renewed efforts to introduce unlimited lawsuits into Americas health care system,” Boehner and Johnson state.

Protecting patients rights “requires a balanced approach built on sound public policy, not a divisive approach fueled by political considerations and special interest priorities,” the lawmakers state.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 22, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.

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