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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

New Patients' Rights Bill Gets Bipartisan Backing

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"I think that it's instructive to note that in the state of Texas, since their law has been passed, there have been a total of 10 -- 10 litigations," responded Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.).

Earlier Tuesday, a group of Republicans and Democrats presented their plan, which they suggested could be the prescription that would break legislative gridlock on the issue. "Our nation has been, if I may use the word, patiently waiting for many years -- and too many years. Congress has failed to pass a patients' bill of rights that would grant American families enrolled in HMOs the healthcare protections they deserve," said McCain, one of the bill's primary architects.

McCain, Bush's main Republican rival for the White House, reached out to Democrats to craft the proposal, beating the White House to the punch on this issue, which ranks near the top among voter concerns.

The delegation also included such longtime patients' rights advocates as Sen. Edward Kennedy, (D-Mass.). He told WebMD he was comfortable with the bill's compromise on the right to sue. "This makes sense in terms of still giving the assurances of accountability, ... I think the protections are quite clear," Kennedy said.

Democratic moderates, like Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Bob Graham of Florida, also played a key role in brokering the bill, and Republican centrists including Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island also are on board.

In addition to the right to sue, the act would allow access to emergency and specialty care, as well as cover drugs not included in a patient's plan. HMO members also would be entitled to direct access to pediatricians and ob-gyn's without authorization. So-called "gag" orders that prevent doctors from discussing treatments not covered by the plan would be prohibited.

Proponents say that if adopted, the bill would create a speedy internal and external review process for medical claims. Some 160 million Americans with private health insurance would be covered, as opposed to some earlier versions that would limit the number protected to about one-third of that total.

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