- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2001

President Bush renewed his appeal yesterday for Congress to pass his version of a "bipartisan patients bill of rights," which the Congressional Budget Office has said is more fiscally sound than a competing proposal favored by many Democrats.
"Before this year is out, I want to sign into law a patients bill of rights," Mr. Bush said at a work force conference, but he emphasized the need for legislation with proper health care accountability safeguards so "most disagreements will not end up in court."
"The idea is to serve more patients, not to create more lawsuits in America," the president said.
The Senate is expected to take up today a Democratic-endorsed bill that the president opposes and says he will veto if Congress passes it.
Mr. Bush has instead endorsed legislation proposed by Sens. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, and James M. Jeffords, an independent from Vermont.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a report released Tuesday that the new health care coverage requirements of the Frist-Breaux-Jeffords bill would cost taxpayers $14.6 billion in lost federal and state revenues over the next 10 years.
But the competing bill offered by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, John McCain, Arizona Republican, and John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, would cost state and federal governments $22.6 billion in lost tax revenues over the same period, including $6.9 billion in losses to the Social Security fund, the CBO said.
The losses in tax and Social Security revenues would be caused by higher health insurance costs from new requirements for medical and emergency care coverage, plus new health care accountability measures imposed on insurers and health maintenance organizations (HMOs), the CBO said.
New requirements of the Frist-Breaux-Jeffords bill covering an estimated 170 million people would increase premiums for employer-sponsored health plans by an average of 2.9 percent, about half of which "would be passed through to workers" as lower after-tax wages, resulting in less income eligible for payroll taxes, the CBO said.
The bill would cause $4.5 billion in losses to the Social Security fund, about a third less than the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill, which the CBO said would increase employer-sponsored health plan premiums an average of 4.2 percent.
The key issue dividing both bills is the disagreement over where possible lawsuits by patients against HMOs that deny them necessary coverage should go and the amount of damages that can be sought.
The Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill would allow unlimited awards for losses and suffering in state court, and cap punitive damages meant to send insurers a message at $5 million.
The White House-supported alternative would cap such damages at $500,000 and prohibit lawsuits in state court.
Supporters of both bills continued attacks on each other yesterday at Capitol Hill rallies, press briefings and on the Senate floor.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, again sounded the alarm that the Kennedy-McCain bill "is overloaded with rights to sue," which would cause employers to drop health coverage as a worker benefit and add millions more to the 42.5 million uninsured Americans.
Mr. Edwards said only a limited number of employers that had "direct participation" in medical decisions could be sued by patients claiming injury by insurers or HMOs that denied them coverage for medical services.

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