Proposed consumer bill of rights would empower patients

Pharmaceutical Representative

The 34-member Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry presented President Clinton with a proposed consumer bill of rights in late November.

The 34-member Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry presented President Clinton with a proposed consumer bill of rights in late November.

The bill, which Clinton endorsed, would establish national standards for what patients may expect and receive from health care plans. It consists of eight major provisions.

First, it guarantees patients access to accurate, easily understood information about health care plans, facilities and professions so that they can make informed purchasing decisions.

Second, it supports the right to a sufficient choice of health care providers that ensures access to appropriate, high quality care. This provision includes providing patients with complex medical conditions access to specialists; allowing women access to providers, such as OB/GYNs, who can perform routine female health services; and ensuring continuity of care for patients undergoing treatment for chronic conditions.

Third, the bill guarantees access to emergency services when and where they are needed.

Fourth, the bill prohibits gag clauses and restores autonomy to patients and providers by promising patients the right to participate in their treatment decisions. This provision would require physicians to disclose any incentives that might influence their treatment decisions.

Fifth, it protects patients from discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, mental or physical disability and sexual orientation.

Sixth, it limits the dissemination of individual medical information and provides patients with the right to review, copy and request amendments to their medical records.

Seventh, the bill requires that health care plans and providers outline grievance and appeals processes for patients.

The eighth provision places responsibility on patients to maximize their healthy habits by becoming more involved in health care decisions, establishing healthy habits, improving persistence and compliance with treatments and reporting health care fraud.

The bill's progress

The commission, co-chaired by Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, will submit a final proposal by the end of March. Clinton seemed optimistic that he would sign the bill before the end of the year, but urged employers and federal agencies to adopt its provisions immediately.

GTE Corp., Stamford, CT, promptly promised to endorse and adhere to the bill of rights for its 400,000 plan participants. Randy McDonald, an executive officer of the company, participated on the Advisory Commission.

Public health organizations, including the National Mental Health Association, applauded the bill.

Only one member of the Advisory Committee voted against the consumer bill. Diane Graham, a small business owner from Kansas, opposed the bill on the grounds that small businesses would not be able to afford what the bill required. As a result, businesses would have to drop coverage for their employees altogether. PR