Patients' Rights Bill Gets Good Diagnosis from Backers, Foes
Price, Joyce Howard, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Supporters and opponents of a Democrat-favored patients' bill of rights to be taken up by the Senate today are trying to hammer out a deal that resolves some key differences that now divide them.
Interviewed yesterday on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. John McCain, the bill's principal sponsor, said he could accept Republican demands that the measure include explicit language stipulating that employers can't be sued for treatment decisions by health plans they provide.
"I believe that we can support that. . . . I'm sure that I could," said Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, whose bill does not currently have the support of the White House and the Republican leadership. President Bush on Friday reiterated that he will veto the measure unless major changes are made to it.
On CNN's "Late Edition," Mr. McCain was asked if he is prepared to meet the president's concerns at least halfway.
"Absolutely. And we have had negotiations with [deputy chief of staff] Josh Bolton at the White House and with his people, and we will continue to have negotiations," he said. "I've spoken to the president twice about our willingness and his willingness to try and see if we can't resolve these issues. The president knows that we need a patients' bill of rights as well as anyone, and he doesn't want to have to veto, so I'm cautiously optimistic that we can reach an agreement on a bill that he can sign."
On Fox, Mr. McCain said, "We've had some good negotiations with the White House, and we certainly have had good negotiations with those who are opposing this bill, and I hope we can get it done this week."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican and an opponent of the bill, appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," but declined to predict when a deal might happen. However, he said he remains confident. "I believe we'll wind up having a bill that answers a lot of the disagreements and will get to the president, and he will be able to sign it. I hope so, and I know he wants to sign it," he said.
Mr. Bush and Republican leaders officially support an alternative patients' bill of rights that Democrats criticize as one that protects the health insurance industry, not consumers.
However, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said late last week that Mr. Bush may accept a bill that gives patients more authority to sue health maintenance organizations (HMOs) than the measure the president now supports.
Mr. Bush has embraced a bill sponsored by Sens. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, and James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent, that would cap lawsuits resulting from a decision by a health insurer or HMO to deny medical coverage at $500,000. Lawsuits would also be restricted to federal court.
But the version sponsored by Mr. McCain, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, would allow patients to sue both in state and federal courts. Under this bill, damages allowed in federal courts would be up to $5 million. Most state courts do not restrict damages. …