Human Capital & Careers

Senate Revives Patient-Rights Bill

Federal laws must be enacted for patients to be able to sue their HMOs in state courts.
Stephen TaubJune 24, 2004

One day after the Supreme Court struck down consumers’ ability to sue their health maintenance organizations in state courts for HMOs’ denial of coverage of doctor-approved care, the Senate reintroduced a patient-rights bill.

“Yesterday was a sad day for patients,” Senator John Edwards, the North Carolina Democrat and recent Presidential contender, told reporters, according to Bloomberg. “This is enormously important, to give patients not only rights but enforceable rights.”

Following the High Court’s decision, federal laws must be enacted if individuals are to be able to seek large judgments for denial of care in state courts, which are often more favorable to such awards than are federal venues.

Members of Congress favoring such a measure have been trying to enact one since 1995, however. In 2001, President George W. Bush opposed a patient-rights measure the Senate approved, according to the wire service. The administration contended that the bill would boost health-care costs. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry supported that bill.

Congress doesn’t appear likely to successful this time around. “The movement appears to have lost steam long before” the court ruling, Washington-based Lehman Brothers analyst Rami Armon reportedly wrote in a report.

Senator John McCain, a Republican supporter of the bill, said that he hopes to re-open negotiations “so we can act as quickly as possible,” according to Bloomberg. McCain and other supporters of the measure will have to spar with such strong opponents as insurers and employers that offer health benefits.

Indeed, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, told the Associated Press the chances that the Republican-led House will take up a national patients’ protection bill this year are “zero.”