June 22, 2001

Commentary

The Nation Needs a Strong Patient's Bill of Rights

By Art Torres
California Democratic Party Chairman

The federal patient's bill of rights sponsored by US Senators McCain, Edwards, and Kennedy currently before the Senate is a major step in reforming our troubled health care system.

Senate Bill 283 would give the millions of Americans who lack the ability to seek recourse to rectify wrongful denials of medical coverage a means of challenging the decisions of their insurance companies. The proposed bill would set basic standards in health care by protecting the patients.

President Bush falsely claims that the proposed bill, specifically its provision that allows for patients to sue their health care provider, will cause a significant increase in insurance premiums. However, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the "right to sue" provision would only result in a 0.8% increase in premiums. According to the American Medical Association, this would equal roughly 6 cents per patient per day.

President Bush's promise to veto the patient's bill of rights in its current form both perplexes and concerns me. By abolishing punitive damages and forcing all legal action into federal courts, the president's proposed alternative is little more than a token attempt to pacify the American public. How does President Bush hope to discourage insurance companies from denying claims of hundreds of thousands of dollars with a maximum award of $500,000 for pain and suffering?

The nation needs a strong patient's bill of rights. Doctors are accountable for the decisions that they make regarding the treatment of patients, why are insurance companies immune? The only groups that receive special protection from lawsuits are foreign diplomats and the managed health care providers. It is time that President Bush heeds to the demands of the consumer and puts patients before insurance company profits.

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