- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

The House handed President Bush a big victory last night, voting 218-213 for his compromise on patients' rights legislation.
Rep. Charlie Norwood, the Georgia Republican who struck the compromise with Mr. Bush Wednesday, wept in the House well as he pleaded for an affirmative vote and thanked all lawmakers who have worked with him on the issue since 1996.
"I've been working five years to get a bill signed into law, not just pass a bill," Mr. Norwood said, adding that lawmakers "are deluding themselves if they think they can force a bill down this president's throat."
The proposal, which was added as an amendment to a broader health-care bill, gives patients more rights against HMOs that refuse to provide doctor-prescribed treatment. Mr. Bush struck the compromise with Mr. Norwood in order to lessen the chance of unnecessary lawsuits against insurers.
Mr. Bush had said he would veto the unamended bill, which was similar to a Senate-passed measure that he believed would foster "frivolous" lawsuits, drive up insurance premiums for employers, and add to the ranks of the 43 million Americans without health insurance.
Just nine lawmakers broke from their parties' lines. Six Republicans joined 206 Democrats and one independent against the president's position. Three Democrats joined 214 Republicans and one independent for the Norwood-Bush compromise.
The six Republicans were: Reps. Timothy V. Johnson of Illinois; Greg Ganske and Jim Leach of Iowa; Constance A. Morella of Maryland; and Marge Roukema and Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey.
The three Democrats were: Reps. Ken Lucas of Kentucky; Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota; and James A. Traficant of Ohio.
"I am saddened it will not be a bipartisan solution," a tearful Mr. Norwood told his colleagues.
The House later voted 226-203 to pass the amended bill, sponsored by Mr. Ganske and Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, and send it to conference with the Senate.
House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri called on the House to reject the compromise. "This is not a patients' bill of rights. This is an HMO and health insurance companies' bill of rights," he said.
In a shouting voice as his face reddened, Mr. Gephardt pleaded, "In the name of God vote against this bill."
"This compromise relegates this to the legislative graveyard," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, called on the Senate not to "torpedo this thing." He said there had to be further negotiations and compromise between the White House and House-Senate conferees, and that Mr. Bush would "remain engaged throughout the process."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and a sponsor of the Senate-passed version, expressed disappointment in the House action to limit lawsuits and noneconomic and punitive damages, saying "a right without a remedy is not a protected right."
He credited Mr. Bush for agreeing to stronger provisions to require that patients have access to medical specialists, emergency services, coverage of participation in clinical trials of new treatments and drugs, and continued treatment by the same doctor when patients change health plans. "We are not going to give up, we are not going to give in until we get a good bill," Mr. Kennedy said.
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney joined congressional Republican leaders at the Capitol to celebrate the agreement with Mr. Norwood. "Get it done," the president told them.
At the meeting, Mr. Hastert called the agreement "a great step."
"We're working together to pass health care protections for the American people, moms and dads and grandpas and kids, that they can get into their doctors' offices and emergency rooms, and to get the care that they need in the hospitals and and the doctors' offices without going to the courtrooms and the lawyers' offices first," said the Illinois Republican.
Democrats spent the day attacking the Norwood-Bush agreement, saying it would perpetuate abuses by health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and further enrich HMO executives.
"If this bill passes, the HMO lobbyists will get to drive off in shiny new Lexuses, while the rest of the American people will get a muffler," Mr. Gephardt said at a morning press conference.
Republicans responded that Democrats were trying to defeat the bill just to keep the issue unsolved and in the political arena as part of their "class-warfare" political strategy.
"This flushes out the other side," said Rep. Ernie Fletcher, Kentucky Republican. "They're more interested in politics than they are in patients."
Mr. Fletcher, a family physician, embraced the Norwood-Bush modifications.
"I'm absolutely elated. This is a very fine compromise. We need to have a patient-protection bill that will be signed by the president, provide patient protections, and hold HMOs accountable," he said.
At issue was a liability section of the bill to guarantee patients access under their employment health plans to doctors, hospitals, and emergency services of their choice. If health plans deny coverage of doctor-prescribed treatment, both Democratic and Republican bills have similar provisions requiring prompt internal and external independent physician review of the decision.
The competing bills allow patient lawsuits in state or federal court if patients disagree with the decision of review panels or if a health plan ignores a decision by an external review panel on doctor-prescribed treatment or medical services.
The compromise exempts employers from lawsuits and requires that lawsuits against health plans be decided in state courts, where doctors and hospitals already must answer lawsuits for medical injury or malpractice.
The compromise sets a $1.5 million cap on noneconomic damages and a separate $1.5 million cap on punitive damages if an HMO or insurance company is found liable for medical injury or death. The unamended bill, authored by Reps. Greg Ganske, Iowa republican, and John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, and the Senate bill have a $5 million cap on punitive damages.
Earlier in the day, the House voted 236-194 to expand medical savings accounts, which let people invest tax-free money for medical costs, and to cover association health plans under the bill.
Democrats who worked with Mr. Norwood for six years and lavishly praised his efforts to promote patient-protection legislation yesterday turned on him with a vengeance.
"I'm sorry that Congressman Norwood sold out for a brief display at the Rose Garden," said Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat, during House debate, a technical violation of House rules that bar personal attacks by members against each other.
Rep. Max Sandlin, Texas Democrat, citing words of the Charlie Daniels Band's classic tune about a fiddle-playing devil, even compared Mr. Bush to "the devil going to Georgia to steal a soul." Mr. Norwood, formerly a practicing dentist, represents Augusta and its suburbs in east Georgia.
Mr. Dingell questioned Mr. Norwood's loyalty in reaching the agreement with the president without approval of other bill sponsors. Mr. Ganske told colleagues he felt Mr. Norwood had betrayed him.
In his own defense, Mr. Norwood told reporters, "Someone had to cut a deal. I got elected to do it."
House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas issued a collection of past Democratic praise of Mr. Norwood, titled "Reality Check."
It quoted Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota before the Norwood-Bush agreement: "Obviously, if Dr. Norwood, who I think knows this issue as well as anybody does, feels that some of these proposals are acceptable, I would certainly entertain them I can't think of a more creditable arbiter of credibility than that, and so I would listen to him."

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