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Senate Nears Passage of Patients’ Bill of Rights

At press time, the Senate was working toward a vote on final passage of landmark legislation (S. 1052) that would provide additional protections to individuals in managed care plans while allowing those individuals to sue their health plans for denial of coverage. The President has threatened to veto the measure; however, this week he endorsed a bill (H.R. 2315) introduced in the House by Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY), which substantially limits an individual’s right to sue.

The Senate began debate on the bill last week (see The Source, 6/22/01, p. 1) and is expected to vote on final passage late on June 29 or possibly June 30.

This week, the Senate debated a number of amendments aimed at limiting the scope of liability under the bill, most of which were defeated. Among the failed amendments were the following:

  • an amendment that would have exempted all employers from liability;
  • an amendment that would have exempted businesses with fewer than 50 employees from liability;
  • an amendment that would have prohibited independent medical reviewers from requiring health plans or insurers to provide treatment or services not covered under the plan; and
  • an amendment that would have allowed states with laws that are consistent with the federal law to avoid “pre-emption.”

 

On June 26, the Senate approved, 93-6, an amendment offered by Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) that would rescind the liability provisions of the underlying bill if the number of uninsured increases after one year.

On June 27, the Senate unanimously approved, 100-0, a clarifying amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) stating that the bill does not permit independent medical reviewers to require that plans or issuers cover specifically excluded items or services.

On June 28, the Senate approved an amendment by Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) that would require states to “substantially comply” with the federal standard. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 64-36.

The same day, the Senate approved, 96-4, an amendment by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) that would limit the liability of employers who provide self-administered health insurance for their employees. Under the amendment, those employers could avoid liability by assigning medical decisions to the health plan directly.

On June 29, the Senate unanimously approved, 98-0, an amendment by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) that would clarify the definition of person under the U.S. criminal code. Under the amendment, which is identical to a stand alone bill (S. 1050) sponsored by Sen. Santorum, “the words ‘person,’ ‘human being,’ ‘child,’ and ‘individual’ shall include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.”

Sen. Santorum stated, “This is an amendment that I think really goes to the heart of this bill: patient protection. This bill is purported to deal with trying to take care of patients. What this amendment does is make sure that every living human being is protected by this act as well as all other acts of Congress.”

In supporting the amendment, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) stated, “His amendment makes it very clear that nothing in this amendment gives any rights that are not yet afforded to a fetus. Therefore, I, as being a pro-choice Senator on this side, representing my colleagues here, have no problem whatsoever with this amendment. I feel good about that.” She continued, “We feel very strongly that every person deserves protection from this health care system and that this Patients’ Bill of Rights should give us all the care that we deserve and all the care our families deserve, regardless of whether we are a helpless newborn baby or whether we are an elderly person who is fighting and struggling against illness.”

At press time, the Senate was continuing to vote on amendments to the bill.

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