Patients' Bill Of Rights Bill No Longer Relevant

June 18, 2001

by Greg Scandlen

NCPA'S Scandlen Says Senate Focusing on Wrong Health Issues; Liability Issue Already Decided

WASHINGTON (Monday, June 18, 2001) - The Senate this week begins debate on competing versions of managed care reform, commonly referred to as the "Patients' Bill of Rights." Yet according Greg Scandlen, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, the Senate is fighting a war over an issue that has already been decided in the courts, and for which public support appears to be dwindling.

"The essential bone of contention behind the Patients' Bill of Rights is whether or not patients should be allowed to sue their HMO," said Scandlen. "But the Supreme Court has already ruled that yes, you can. In fact, HMOs are being sued right and left."

Scandlen pointed out that last year the Supreme Court ruled in Pegram v. Herdrich that HMOs are indeed currently subject to malpractice laws and may be sued in state court when they exercise medical judgment about the necessity of a proposed treatment. Disputes about a health plan's contracts are still exempt from state action, but in those cases patients may bring suit in federal court.

Furthermore, according to a survey just released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, public pressure for the Patients' Bill of Rights has begun to subside as demands of the market and evolving case law have decreased public dissatisfaction. For example:

  • Americans report far fewer problems with their health plans on every standard than in a similar survey three years ago - in some instances complaints have dropped by more than 40 percent.
  • While most people think health issues are "very important" for Congress and the president to deal with, they rank "protecting patients' rights" at the bottom of the list.
  • While 85 percent initially said they favored the Patients' Bill of Rights, support dropped to 60 percent if it meant premiums were raised by $20 a month. And only 41 percent continued to support it (47 percent opposed) when asked if "it meant that some companies might stop offering health plans to their workers."

"Market pressures have forced HMOs to change their ways, and the public is responding," said Scandlen. "Instead of continuing their fixation on a bygone issue, Congress needs to begin focusing their energy and time on the real problems confronting our health care system, such as the disconnect between patients and the real cost of their treatment decisions."

For more information or to speak to Scandlen, contact the NCPA's public affairs office.