Bush, McCain clash on patients' rights

April 1, 2001

Pharmaceutical Representative

President Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are set to battle over McCain's "Bipartisan Patient Protection Act of 2001," a patients' rights proposal he has introduced with Senators John Edwards (D-NC), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Bob Graham (D-FL). The proposal would:

President Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are set to battle over McCain's "Bipartisan Patient Protection Act of 2001," a patients' rights proposal he has introduced with Senators John Edwards (D-NC), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Bob Graham (D-FL). The proposal would:


•Â Give every American the right to choose his or her own doctor.


•Â Cover all Americans with employer-based health insurance.


•Â Ensure that all external reviews of medical decisions are conducted by independent and qualified physicians.


•Â Hold a plan accountable when it makes a decision that harms or kills someone (civil damages are capped at $5 million).

"For too long, managed-care decisions have been made by HMOs and doctors, not by the patients whose very lives are affected by these choices," said McCain. "Patients deserve basic rights and need to be given the tools to enforce their rights without promoting frivolous lawsuits. By not pre-empting state laws, covering all Americans and banning punitive and exemplary damages on the federal level, this bipartisan bill will achieve this goal and give Americans the health insurance coverage they deserve."

Lawsuit issues

In response to the proposal, President Bush said he favors a patients' bill of rights, but spoke out against any plan that would allow the courts to be anything but a last resort. He proposed that health plans would be liable for damages in federal court only after an appeals process were exhausted. In a letter to congress, Bush wrote: "I cannot support a plan ... that encourages unnecessary or frivolous litigation. Expensive litigation, and the resulting rise in healthcare costs, would only make it more difficult for Americans to afford healthcare coverage in the first place. I believe it is possible to provide patients a meaningful remedy when they have been wrongly denied care, without causing other Americans to lose coverage. A responsible remedy for patients should protect employers from the high costs of being subject to multiple causes of action in multiple venues and should provide a reasonable cap on damages."

In response to the letter, McCain issued a statement saying he was "encouraged" by Bush's support of a patients' bill of rights, but questioned the president's proposals for reducing frivolous lawsuits. "It isn't clear how the President would protect existing state laws, such as those in Texas and Arizona, by insisting that all disputes be handled in federal court. Clearly, this would pre-empt state laws allowing patients to hold their health plans accountable for injuries or death resulting from the HMO's actions." PR

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