For Immediate Release 3 Aug 01

Contact Rachel Weintraub 202-546-9707

House Puts HMO Profits Before Patients by Passing Fatally Flawed Patients’ Bill of Rights

Statement of Rachel Weintraub, Staff Attorney

The House-passed Patients Rights Bill offers rights without remedies and should be rejected in conference committee. PIRG is disappointed that the House made the wrong choice and put HMO interests before the rights of patients, when it narrowly agreed to a gutting amendment negotiated by former champion Charlie Norwood (GA) and President Bush.

It was a mistake for the House to agree to the unreasonable demands of the HMO industry and its employer allies, which will make final passage of a fair bill into law very difficult. Instead, the House should have listened to the demands of the broad coalition of union members, health care consumers, doctors and nurses who wanted real HMO accountability.

The Norwood/ Bush Amendment significantly undermined the critical goal of giving patients the rights and enforceable remedies they must have in their interaction with their HMOs. 

The House-passed bill rolls back existing state law accountability, including New Jersey’s Right to Sue bill just signed into law by the Governor; replaces state accountability with a very narrow and inadequate remedy, including capping non-economic damages at $1.5 million or lower state limits and limiting punitive damage awards to limited cases, where the decision maker failed to comply with the reviewer's decision; continues the special treatment granted to HMOs that no other industry enjoys; and unfairly limits a patients’ ability to join in class action suits.  

By passing a weak Patients’ Bill of Rights the House created special rights for HMOs at the expense of patient care.  Sick patients hope they never have to court, but under the House passed bill, they may not even be able to and if they do they cannot win.

The Patients’ Bill of Rights will now proceed to Conference Committee where differences between the House bill and the much better Senate bill will be reconciled.

We’re disappointed because the House has done better before and could have done better this week. Now, it will be an uphill struggle in conference to end up with a fair law that really protects consumers. We commend chief sponsors Dingell (MI) and Ganske (IA) for their tireless support of real reform.

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U.S. PIRG is the national lobbying office for state-based Public Interest Research Groups across the country. The state PIRGs are independent, non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations.