Patients' Rights & Health Care Reform

Article excerpt

Eighty percent of voters in the recent presidential election rated health care as a top issue. Rising health care costs ranked among the highest of voter concerns based upon a post-election survey conducted on behalf of America's health insurance plans.

However, in an election dominated by the war on terrorism, many voters said that the presidential debate on health care lacked focus and did not offer specific solutions. Less than 10 percent of voters reported that health care issues actually influenced their vote.

Also, while voters recognize the need for health care reform, most voters report that they are satisfied with their own health care coverage. Voters favor more choice in making health care decisions and generally favor private sector solutions rather than government intervention.

Still, most voters recognize that the government plays an important role in regulating the health care industry. For example, nine out of 10 voters believe that the government should monitor the performance of health care organizations. Also, by a four to one margin, voters favor independent review of HMO and insurance coverage decisions.

Rather than supporting a complete overhaul of the health care system, the majority of voters favor a more limited strategy of targeted reform measures. As part of this strategy, voters say they would welcome private-public partnerships that lower health care costs and improve quality.

Now that the election is over, many voters are demanding that health care issues be given higher priority. Most voters agree that medical malpractice reform, a top campaign issue for President Bush, will remain an important priority of the administration. However, voters express other concerns, including the need for patients' rights laws and HMO reform measures. Where the election leaves these other issues remains uncertain.

Some experts have questioned whether the administration's efforts to curtail frivolous lawsuits through medical malpractice reform will have negative consequences for the passage of a National Patients Rights Law. These experts predict that legislative efforts to restrict patient lawsuits against doctors will have the indirect consequence of dampening support for patients' rights laws which allow patients to pursue claims against HMOs or insurers for adverse coverage decisions.

Ironically, the beneficiaries of medical malpractice reform, namely doctors and health care providers, largely favor laws that expand patients' rights, including a patient's right to challenge HMO coverage decisions. Such laws also are consistent with the public's demand for greater choice by placing health care decisions in the hands of doctors rather than in the hands of insurers. …