Health Care Industry Awaits New GOP Leaders: Some Fear They Will Pass Harmful Legislation

Article excerpt

The candidates for House Republican leadership posts are pro-business, but some industry lobbyists worry that the new GOP team will pass major legislation giving patients the right to sue their health plans.

Rep. Robert L. Livingston of Louisiana, who is likely the next speaker, and two Oklahomans, would-be majority leader Steve Largent and GOP conference chairman contender J.C. Watts, were among the earliest supporters of the sweeping Patients Access to Responsible Care Act (Parca).

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, gathered 218 co-sponsors before it was derailed by outgoing Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, last session.

"I shudder to think of a Republican House that tries to outregulate the Democrats on this issue," said Neil Trautwein, manager of health care policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But he said a GOP patients'-rights bill the House passed in July offers an alternative to Parca.

Mr. Livingston, Mr. Largent and Mr. Watts all voted for the GOP plan that passed the House. The Senate killed a Democratic bill on a procedural vote.

Aside from health care, the change in House leadership has not raised other concerns among business advocates.

"People have realized that attacking your allies is not the way to build coalitions and it's not the way to get legislation through," said Charles Marck, president of the Business Industry Political Action Committee, which raises money for pro-business candidates.

Bipac was critical of the 105th Congress and issued a manifesto in March urging business groups to punish candidates who supported Parca and opposed giving President Clinton "fast-track" authority to negotiate trade pacts.

Bruce Josten, the chamber's executive vice president of government affairs, predicted little progress on fast track or other business issues. He said debate over privatizing Social Security and the 2000 presidential election will divert attention in the next Congress.

"The AFL-CIO is an adamant opponent of privatization and means testing, so how does Mr. Clinton walk the straight and narrow toward privatization without alienating his vice president from the money train he needs for 2000?" Mr. Josten asked.

Defeating patients'-rights legislation remains a top priority next year for business groups, who say Parca and similar bills would drive up costs.

"Sure we're concerned, when you had a six-vote margin to defeat the patient bill of rights and you lose five of those votes in the election," said Ralph Hellmann, a lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobbying group. …