August 1998 Bulletin

Partisan battles flare on patients rights issues

Patients rights is the number one domestic issue in Congress these days as Republicans and Democrats wrestle to take control of what they believe will be winning rhetoric in the November elections.

The partisan fighting, being played out to the background noise of a media ad blitz, reached fever pitch in July and more is expected in the waning days of this session of Congress.

Republican leaders denounced President Clinton's call for Congress to pass a patient "bill of rights" last year as a "big government" plan that would meddle in the affairs of business and consumers. Republican leaders stymied attempts to debate health care legislation. However, voter sentiment for change in managed care organizations and a constant barrage of "horror" stories was too strong. In mid-July Republican leaders in the House and Senate, who have stymied votes on Democratic-sponsored patient "bill of rights" legislation, released their health care proposals. As this is written, House Republicans planned to bring their bill directly to the floor for a vote, avoiding amendments, which was strongly opposed by the Patient Access to Specialty Care Coalition. The coalition said the bill does not provide a ban on financial incentives that reward gatekeepers for not referring patients to specialists; information about health plans coverage and performance is not provided routinely; access and choice of physician and continuity of care are not part of the core patient protections; and point of service is not a required option for all patients.

Senate Republicans also planned to bring their bill to the floor in late July. Republicans leaders promised to allow a vote on the Democratic-sponsored legislation.

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