‘Rights’ Battle Far From Over

Now that the U.S. Senate has passed a Patients’ Bill of Rights, the battle over how much liability to impose on health plans and employers shifts to the more conservative House, and then to an inevitable showdown in a Congressional conference committee.

Given that George W. Bush probably does not want to be portrayed as the president who denied people protections against the managed care bureaucrats we all love to hate, chances are a compromise will emerge that the White House can live with.

Therefore, we will, before long, have a law that guarantees everyone reasonable access to emergency care and specialists, as well as an independent review if a plan denies a claim or refuses a treatment.

People will also probably have at least a limited right to sue their health plans and, under certain conditions, their employers as well. In theory, this makes sense. After all, shouldn’t we have the right to sue someone who harms us, either through negligence or incompetence? It’s the American way.

Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for this “right.” Health insurance premiums may go up, coverage may be further restricted, deductibles and co-payments may rise, and even more people might end up uninsured.

That’s the real problem with this debate over patients’ rights. No matter what law passes, it only secures rights for those fortunate enough to have health insurance. What about the 43 million or so people who have no insurance? Or all the elderly Americans with no drug coverage? Dont they have a “right” to coverage?

The Patients’ Bill of Rights, while necessary to help protect against abuses by the managed care system, does not begin to address the biggest problem–how to affordably cover the medical care and drug needs of every citizen. If there’s any justice, that’s the battle that will ultimately make or break every politician in Washington.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, July 20, 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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