- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2001

President Bush scored an important political win with the compromise on, and subsequent House passage of, a patient's bill of rights.
Unfortunately, while political victories do not always produce the soundest policies, they can usually be counted on to produce good sound bites, such as this one, "We're going to try to make it a stronger and better bill," made Sunday by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The House patient's rights bill also appears to be a case in point because, while it limits the damage that trial lawyers can do and permits a few laudable steps, it still sets up a heavy regulatory regime and does little to address the true sicknesses of the system.
The Bush-Norwood compromise was about the scope and cost of lawsuits. Specifically, angry patients whose health plans denied both treatment and the recommendations of an independent review panel will be permitted to receive unlimited monetary damages in state or federal courts and up to $3 million in non-economic and punitive damages. The bill also attempts to shield employers from some of the fallout from such cases. Employers, especially smaller ones, may also enjoy a provision that allows them to buy collective health care through trade or professional groups. Another healthy clause ensures that employees receive unlimited access to medical savings accounts.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the House bill still promugulates an invasive, heavy-handed regulatory regime. So, all of these "rights" come with associated costs. The House compromise could well result in millions of Americans being deprived of health insurance consequences that were expected from passage of the Senate's version. Moreover, neither bill expands individual choice of health care plans, which is at the root of true reform. If Mr. Bush truly wants to palliate the abuses of current health care system, he should insist on signing a bill that attempts a real remedy.

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