Patient Protection Getting Quiet Play Despite Congress’ Focus On Terrorism
By Steven Brostoff
With the attention of Congress and the nation focused on issues arising from the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and the current military campaign, other legislative concerns have been pushed into the background.
In particular, health insurance, which threatened to be a highly divisive issue during the fall, has remained largely dormant in the aftermath of the attacks.
However, the ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC), a Washington-based association of employee benefit plan sponsors, reports that Congressional leaders are still quietly working on patients bill of rights legislation.
The House and Senate passed two different versions of the legislation. The Senate bill, S. 1052, is strongly opposed by health insurers and employers, who charge that it would impose unlimited liability on health plans, forcing many plans to drop coverage completely.
The House bill, H.R. 2563, is regarded as less onerous than S. 1052, in that it caps liability and makes it more difficult for patients to sue their health plans over coverage disputes.
However, insurers and employers say H.R. 2563 would still lead to higher insurance costs.
According to ERIC, House and Senate leaders remain hopeful they can develop a consensus bill before Congress recesses, which is expected by the end of October.
So far, a House-Senate Conference Committee, which would work out the differences between the two bills, has not been named.
However, ERIC says, its Capitol Hill sources say that if an agreement is to be reached, it will not come through the normal conference committee process.
Rather, ERIC says, a deal would involve behind-the-scenes negotiations among key individuals on Capitol Hill and Bush administration officials.
ERIC says a conference committee is unlikely because it would be contentious, and everyone wants to maintain a bipartisan spirit in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack.
Meanwhile, the United States Census Bureau reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans declined between 1999 and 2000 from 39.3. million to 38.7 million.
Some 14% of Americans had no health insurance coverage at all during 2000, down from 14.3% in 1999, the Bureau reports.
The Bureau adds that employer-provided coverage also increased slightly during the year. Some 64.1% of the population had employer-provided coverage for some or all of 2000, the Bureau says.
This is a 0.6% increase from 1999.
The Bureaus report, however, drew warnings from health care interest groups that problems remain in the system.