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    Senate Approves Patients' Rights Bill; Debate Moves to House


    Health insurance plans and employer groups blasted the Senate bill, but prominent doctor and patient-oriented organizations - and trial lawyers - have endorsed it.

    Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said that the bill would be "candyland for lawyers," even though senators voted to limit lawyer fees to one-third of the amount of a court award.

    Meanwhile, the White House has vowed to veto the bill, claiming the Senate legislation would toss more than a million Americans off of health insurance because of increased premiums.

    Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said, "this thing is just not going in the right direction."

    The congressional debate on patients' rights now turns to the House, which hasn't considered the issue this year but plans to take it up in July.

    President Bush is working with lawmakers to try to garner support for House passage of a less sweeping measure. He has endorsed a package brought by GOP leaders there, which allows more limited lawsuit rights than the Senate measure.

    Nevertheless, Bush may face an uphill battle, since the House passed a tough HMO bill in 1999 that had close to 70 Republican supporters. Reps. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), who led the 1999 patients' rights push, say they still have strong support for their legislation.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments on an Illinois case that hinges on whether states can force a managed care plan to accept an outside review of a medical decision disputed by a patient.

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