- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

Supporters and opponents of a Democrat-favored patients bill of rights to be taken up by the Senate today are trying to hammer out a deal that resolves some key differences that now divide them.
Interviewed yesterday on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. John McCain, the bills principal sponsor, said he could accept Republican demands that the measure include explicit language stipulating that employers cant be sued for treatment decisions by health plans they provide.
"I believe that we can support that. … Im sure that I could," said Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, whose bill does not currently have the support of the White House and the Republican leadership. President Bush on Friday reiterated that he will veto the measure unless major changes are made to it.
On CNNs "Late Edition," Mr. McCain was asked if he is prepared to meet the presidents concerns at least halfway.
"Absolutely. And we have had negotiations with [deputy chief of staff] Josh Bolton at the White House and with his people, and we will continue to have negotiations," he said. "Ive spoken to the president twice about our willingness and his willingness to try and see if we cant resolve these issues. The president knows that we need a patients bill of rights as well as anyone, and he doesnt want to have to veto, so Im cautiously optimistic that we can reach an agreement on a bill that he can sign."
On Fox, Mr. McCain said, "Weve had some good negotiations with the White House, and we certainly have had good negotiations with those who are opposing this bill, and I hope we can get it done this week."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican and an opponent of the bill, appeared on NBCs "Meet the Press," but declined to predict when a deal might happen. However, he said he remains confident. "I believe well wind up having a bill that answers a lot of the disagreements and will get to the president, and he will be able to sign it. I hope so, and I know he wants to sign it," he said.
Mr. Bush and Republican leaders officially support an alternative patients bill of rights that Democrats criticize as one that protects the health insurance industry, not consumers.
However, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said late last week that Mr. Bush may accept a bill that gives patients more authority to sue health maintenance organizations (HMOs) than the measure the president now supports.
Mr. Bush has embraced a bill sponsored by Sens. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, and James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent, that would cap lawsuits resulting from a decision by a health insurer or HMO to deny medical coverage at $500,000. Lawsuits would also be restricted to federal court.
But the version sponsored by Mr. McCain, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, would allow patients to sue both in state and federal courts. Under this bill, damages allowed in federal courts would be up to $5 million. Most state courts do not restrict damages. There would also be no restrictions on pain and suffering or punitive damages under the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill.
The patients bill of rights being drafted by House Republicans would allow patients to bring lawsuits against health insurers in state courts. Mr. Hastert said Mr. Bush might have to endorse such a bill — despite the presidents insistence in the past that he will not sign a bill that allows for the possibility of massive lawsuits. "That might be the best boat they have going out of the harbor here," the speaker told the New York Times.
Asked yesterday if Mr. Bush is eager to get a deal on a patients bill of rights, White House spokesman Jim Orr said only: "The president is committed to a bipartisan patients bill of rights thats comprehensive and enforceable. Hes working with Congress to forge a bipartisan consensus that puts patients and families first."
Yet Mr. Lott yesterday highlighted Republican fears that the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill opens up the door to unlimited lawsuits, which would raise health insurance costs and lead to many Americans losing their health care coverage.
"One thing that concerns us about the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill is that there are no real limits on how much you can get," he said.
Mr. Lott stressed that his main objection to the bill was its proposal to allow lawsuits in state courts. "This should be about quick delivery of health care, not about lawyers getting 40 to 60 percent of what might come out of a lawsuit at the end of the day," he said.
But the Republican leader hastened to add hes "not slamming the door" on the idea of allowing restricted lawsuits against HMOs in state courts. "What we want is a result. We dont want an endless argument. Its time we get this issue dealt with. … Weve tried for the past five years and havent done it," said Mr. Lott.
On Fox, Mr. McCain said hed be willing to negotiate "within certain reasonable limitations," restricting the percentage of total damages that lawyers could receive in such lawsuits. He said he could not provide any specific numbers at the time.
Mr. Lott also said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, will be offering an amendment to the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill that would ensure employers not be liable for any harm caused by a health insurers inadequate treatment or denial of care. Mr. Lott said the Gramm amendment will use similar language to that contained in the Texas patients rights law enacted when Mr. Bush was governor. That law does not hold employers liable.
Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and another sponsor of the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill, also interviewed on NBC, was asked if he could accept caps on the amount of damages patients could receive.
Mr. Harkin said he does not believe the $500,000 limit on economic and punitive damages in the Republican-favored patients rights bill is "right" or "reasonable."
"Texas does not have that. Texas has no cap on economic and non-economic damages," he said.

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