- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert says he's been assured President Bush will sign a new compromise patients' bill of rights crafted by House Republicans as an alternative to the Democratic version the Senate passed Friday night that the administration opposes.
"The bill we have before the House is one, I'm sure, the president will sign. He says he'll sign it. And we need to get a product, not a political statement," the Illinois Republican said yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, interviewed on ABC's "This Week," cited published reports yesterday that quoted White House press secretary Ari Fleischer as saying Mr. Bush can accept 90 percent of the Senate patients' rights bill.
If that's the case, Mr. Daschle said, perhaps the president "could do what he did in Texas" with the patients' bill of rights passed by lawmakers in that state.
"After he vetoed it the first time, he let it become law without his signature," Mr. Daschle said.
He urged Mr. Bush to compromise more on the Democrat-supported bill.
"Clearly, this has to become law," Mr. Daschle said of the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill.
House Democrats say they think they have the votes to pass a bill that's similar — but not identical to —the one passed by the Senate. But pressed on CBS, Mr. Hastert said, "I think we'll be able to pass our bill."
House Republicans forged the new compromise bill in the hopes it can defeat a rival measure, sponsored by Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat; Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican; and Rep. Greg Ganske, Iowa Republican and a physician.
Critics of the Dingell bill, which previously passed the House in 1999, say it will encourage a flood of lawsuits against health insurers because of the potential for big payoffs, and they charge it will cause many Americans to lose medical coverage.
Opponents make the same accusations about the bill passed Friday by the Senate.
In a statement Friday night after the Senate's vote on the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards Patients Protection Act, Dr. Donald Young, interim president of the Health Insurance Association of America, said the measure "would cause over a million Americans to lose their health coverage and do nothing to improve the quality of health care."
On CBS, Mr. Hastert was asked if he can block a vote on the Dingell bill later this month.
"We're not going to block a vote. We're going to bring up a bill that I think is a better bill, that doesn't have the unintended consequences of what the Democrat bill will do," he said.
Mr. Hastert added, "I think what we'll have coming out of the House and conference will be much more balanced."
The bill Mr. Hastert favors is co-sponsored by Rep. Ernie Fletcher, Kentucky Republican and a physician, and by Rep. Collin C. Peterson, Minnesota Democrat.
Unlike the Dingell measure, which would allow patients denied medical coverage to sue health insurers both in federal and state courts, the Fletcher-Peterson patients' rights bill would only allow injury cases to be tried in state courts when an HMO does not comply with findings by an external review board — fulfilling the administration's request to limit lawsuits. Mr. Bush initially sought to restrict lawsuits by patients to federal courts, because many state courts have no limits on damage awards.
The new House Republican bill also would protect employers who do not make treatment decisions from liability suits and would place a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in federal court.
The president has threatened to veto the Dingell bill and the version passed by the Senate that has undergone some modification, unless there are further changes limiting liability. Republicans charge that both the Dingell measure and the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill will lead to unlimited lawsuits and higher health care costs as well as increase the number of Americans without health insurance.
Mr. Hastert said: "Patients should be able to get the health care they need. They should be able to get it without going to a lawyer's office or should be able to get it without going to a court and getting it after the fact."
Under Fletcher-Peterson, Mr. Hastert said, a patient who is denied a medical procedure his doctor says is needed can then have his case reviewed by an outside panel of doctors.
If that panel says the patient needs the procedure and the "insurance company still says no," then the patient can immediately take his case to state court, Mr. Hastert said.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, referred to the Fletcher-Peterson bill as the "speaker's bill" in an interview on CNN's "Late Edition."
"I think the speaker's bill will win the House, and that'll give Tom Daschle an opportunity to come to the table and participate in this compromise that he so clearly says he'd like to see us accomplish," Mr. Armey said.

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