- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

Senate Republicans, joined by the White House, yesterday unleashed a major assault on a Democratic-endorsed health care reform bill, saying it would lead to higher costs, frivolous lawsuits and increased numbers of uninsured people.
"You would need a bushel basket of bread crumbs to weave your way through this bill without getting lost," Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, said of the Democratic-favored bill called the "Bipartisan Patient Protection Act."
Mr. Enzi said the bill, sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican; John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat; and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, would allow employers to be sued for "essentially everything under the sun" if an employees health-care plan was attacked in court for failing to provide adequate medical treatment to a covered patient.
Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, said Democratic claims that the bill would protect employers from lawsuits were "bait and switch," because one provision that appeared to exempt employers from legal liability along with insurers and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) was superseded by other provisions that made them liable.
"Despite all the denials and bait and switch, you can go to the courthouse before you go to the appeals process" set up for patients who disagree with decisions of insurance companies and HMOs, Mr. Gramm said.
"What sense does it make if your employer scrimps and saves to provide health insurance for his employees if hes going to get sued for providing that benefit?" the Texas Republican said.
"We want employers to stay in this business, its important to the country," said Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican. Mr. Voinovich and Mr. Gramm said they would seek to add unqualified language from a Texas patients rights statute that clearly exempts employers and pharmacists from liability and lawsuits.
The Bush administration, in a statement from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), said President Bush would veto the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill "unless significant changes are made to address his major concerns."
Mr. Bush is worried about the potential for numerous court lawsuits against businesses that offer health insurance as an employee benefit, as well as rising costs of health insurance coverage resulting from federal mandates, the statement said.
"While the president strongly supports a comprehensive and enforceable patients bill of rights and has been working with members of both parties to enact legislation this year, he believes [the Democratic-endorsed bill] would encourage costly and unnecessary litigation that would seriously jeopardize the ability of many Americans to afford health care coverage," the OMB statement said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, expressed disappointment in the statement.
"It doesnt serve anyones purpose to threaten vetoes right now," Mr. Daschle said. "What I have said is Im willing to try to find compromise. What I have indicated is a real level of satisfaction that the Republicans are moving more toward a more conciliatory approach."
Senate Republicans, however, pledged to force Democrats to take as much time as needed to make the legislation acceptable to the president and a majority in Congress, despite a July 4 deadline set by Mr. Daschle to finish Senate action on the bill.
"Were not going to be stampeded on this issue," Mr. Gramm told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference.

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