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Bush Outlines Administration's Take on Patients' Rights

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WebMD Health News

March 21, 2001 (Orlando, Fla.) -- "I want to sign a patients' bill of rights this year, but I will not sign a bad one, and I cannot sign any one that is now before the Congress," President George W. Bush told a gathering of heart doctors here.

You'd think that members of the American College of Cardiology, which has been advocating the adoption of patient protection legislation for the last seven years, would be disappointed, but Bush managed to deftly avoid specifics, while telling the appreciative audience what it wanted to hear.

But it certainly wasn't what Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, (D-Mass.), wanted to hear. "We have been waiting on the president for six weeks. And today all we get in effect is a veto message on a real patients' bill of rights," said Kennedy in a statement issued later in the day. "This is not the way to pass bipartisan legislation. Talk of bipartisan from the White House will not protect a single patient from HMO abuse. It's time to stop talking and start acting to pass a real patients' bill of rights."

In a speech lasting about 15 minutes, the president gave another plug for tax cuts and touched on other health-related issues, such as Medicare reform (including support for a Medicare drug benefit), a tax credit to help working families buy health insurance, and for a proposed increase in the budget for the National Institutes of Health.

But he saved the bulk of his speech for giving the bare-bones outline of his administration's version of acceptable legislation to protect doctor-patient relationships.

According to Bush, the plan would:

  • Cover all patients.
  • Afford the right to receive emergency treatment at the nearest emergency room.
  • Ensure the right to see specialists when needed.
  • Guarantee the rights of women to see obstetricians, and children and their parents to see pediatricians, without having to go through a gatekeeper.
  • The right to participate in potentially lifesaving clinical trials.
  • For patients denied treatment, they would have the right to an immediate and fair review from an independent review board. "And if they say you need the care, your health plan must provide it," Bush said.
  • Offer patients who have been harmed a "meaningful" remedy.
  • Put a limit on the amount of damages that patients could recover when they sue their caregivers.

In a press conference held shortly after the speech, American College of Cardiology President Douglas P. Zipes, MD, noted that at least three similar bills already are pending in Congress, including one put forth by a bipartisan coalition headed by Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.).

"There seems to be a swell of support for patients' rights legislation," Zipes said. "Now, we've just got to make sure that we get members from both parties to work together and get a meaningful law enacted."

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