- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

The American Medical Association yesterday joined President Bush's call for swift House passage of health care reform legislation, but it will be lobbying for a version the president has threatened to veto.
"We and the president are in sync on 90 percent of the items" in competing bills to enable patients to sue private insurers and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) for medical decisions that lead to injury or death, said Dr. Donald J. Palmisano, a New Orleans surgeon who is the AMA's secretary-treasurer.
But he said a bill backed by Mr. Bush and House GOP leaders would be "a step backwards because it would remove rights patients now have in nine states that have already passed patient-protection plans."
The AMA is urging its 300,000 physician-members to oppose a House bill introduced by Reps. Ernie Fletcher, Kentucky Republican, and Collin C. Peterson, Minnesota Democrat, which the president supports, because it "would remove state law and nullify accountability and court decisions permitting injured patients to hold HMOs responsible for negligent medical decisions in state courts," Dr. Palmisano said.
Instead, the doctors' lobbying organization wants the House to pass a companion bill to the Senate-passed McCain-Kennedy-Edwards patients' rights legislation introduced by Reps. Greg Ganske, Iowa Republican, and John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat.
The Ganske-Dingell bill would allow aggrieved patients to recover unlimited economic damages for medical negligence and up to $5 million in punitive damages in state or federal court, while the Fletcher-Peterson bill would limit punitive damages to $500,000.
"We're against mismanaged care," Dr. Palmisano said. If insurance company and group health plan administrators "want to play doctor, they should be held accountable as a doctor" in state court, he said.
Yesterday, Mr. Bush visited Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax County, meeting patients and staff as the White House tried to stem House momentum toward the Senate's approach to health care reform.
Appearing afterward with Dr. David B. Berry, Mr. Bush repeated his opposition to legislation that would encourage "junk lawsuits." He said "the whole core of a good bill will recognize that patients ought to have access to specialists that patients ought to have the capacity to take complaints to an independent review organization staffed by doctors and medical professionals."
As in the past, the president did not specify backing only for the Fletcher-Peterson bill. "There's a lot of agreement on bills moving their way through the House of Representatives right now. But I want a bill to sign that does not run the cost of premiums up or health care up as a result of excessive lawsuits," he said.
Dr. Berry, who is married to a trial lawyer, endorsed the president's approach. He said be believes "a strong independent-review process, coupled with the limited right to sue as a last resort, is the way to go. And that's why I believe the president's approach is best for my patients."

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