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Patients' Rights Bill Advances.

The House and Senate passed versions of a patients' rights bill late last year that could have health insurers bracing for an onslaught of lawsuits.

The legislation will move to a House-Senate conference committee to come up with one bill, possibly this spring.

The nightmares for health insurers began when the House passed the Norwood-Dingell Patients' Bill of Rights Act of 1999, a version supported by the White House. The legislation includes guaranteed payment for emergency care, the right to see specialists, the right to independent medical review of health-plan denials and the right to sue a health plan in state court.

Sponsored by Reps. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., and John Dingell, DMich., the bill would expand healthcare liability to health plans and the employers who sponsor them. Under the bill, employers who voluntarily provide health insurance to their employees would be exposed to a number of new lawsuits in state courts, according to opponents.

"A victory for the dark side," is how Richard Coorsh, spokesman for the Washington-based Health Insurance Association of America described passage of the bill. "The needs of American consumers have been sacrificed at the twin altars of political expediency and the predatory trial bar."

He said provisions in the bill would raise costs to consumers and increase the number of uninsured people by exposing employers and health plans to lawsuits seeking unlimited punitive damages. An HIAA study also determined that the bill would call for more than 400 mandates, which "would be paid for by higher premiums charged both to employers and employees," Coorsh said.

The American Medical Association, on the other hand, hailed the legislation. "Today we are one giant step closer to a law that allows physicians to make medical decisions, that allows patients to appeal if their care is delayed or denied," said Thomas R. Reardon, president of the group.

Insurers appear to be moving in that direction even before any legislation is enacted.

In November, United Healthcare gave doctors the final say on which treatments their patients receive, and the move was expected to spark similar actions by other health plans. Aetna Inc. already has indicated that it intends to move in that direction.

"We were only saying no one out of 100 times," said Lee Newcomer, senior vice president of health policy and strategy for UnitedHealth, "but the perception was that we were saying no 99 out of 100 times."
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Author:Kelly, Dennis
Publication:Best's Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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