WASHINGTON – Rep. Charlie Norwood on Wednesday revived the patients' rights legislation he has been proposing since he came to Congress eight years ago, but acknowledged potential insurmountable differences over the liability of HMOs.
Norwood, a Georgia Republican often at odds with his own party on this issue, also said passage could be difficult with lawmakers already focused on two other health care issues -- prescription drug coverage for older Americans and the high costs of malpractice insurance.
Norwood's measure would ensure that patients in managed care programs have access to emergency and pediatric care and prescription drugs. It would guarantee a patients' access to information, protect the doctor-patient relationship and give every patient the right to an independent review when the doctor and insurance company disagree on treatment.
Reflecting a recent Supreme Court ruling, the bill would permit states to have more, but not less, stringent outside review provisions than federal law and reaffirms the rights of federal courts to return medical cases to the states.
Norwood said his bill did not cover the liability issue. "I am no longer trying to help forge a compromise on liability," he said. "I tried that for years and, in the end, all I got was a few hundred beatings and no law."
Republicans and insurers have demanded that the legislation include caps on lawsuits against health maintenance organizations. Democrats have resisted any restrictions on a patient's right to sue.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., Norwood's past partner in promoting patients' rights legislation, has said that trying to pass a bill without addressing the liability issue was "like trying to move a car forward without an engine."
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who wrote the Senate bill in the last session of Congress with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and John Edwards, D-N.C., also opposed dropping the liability provisions on the grounds that "a right without a remedy is no right at all," said his spokesman Jim Manley.
The health care industry was also quick to renew its opposition to Norwood's campaign.
"The legislation unveiled yet again today would further drive up health care costs, exacerbating the nation's uninsured crisis at a time when health care costs already are escalating rapidly," said Dr. Donald Young, president of the Health Insurance Association of America.
Norwood, a former dentist who is conservative on most issues, reached a compromise with President Bush in August 2001. The president and other Republicans opposed state court lawsuits, where the dollar judgments tend to be higher, and wanted to send all suits against HMOs to federal court. Norwood agreed to a deal whereby cases could still go to state courts but under federal rules.
But the House and the Senate, then under Democratic control, failed to settle their differences on the issue.