Lobbyists and members of Congress jockeyed for position on patient protection legislation last week as Democrats picked up key Republican support for their bill and GOP leaders pledged to accelerate their timetable for drafting a quality proposal.
After seven House Republicans added their support to the Democrats' Patients' Bill of Rights (See chart), GOP leaders said they expect to push up the date for release of their version of patient protection legislation from late to early May.
The situation was complicated by the usually conservative American Medical Association's endorsement of the Democratic bill (See story below), which is sponsored by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).
The Republicans who endorsed the Dem-ocratic bill were led by Rep. Greg Ganske, M.D. (R-Iowa), who has sponsored legislation banning "gag clauses" in contracts between health plans and physicians.
The bill had nine Republican sponsors, but Reps. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) dropped their endorsement after hearing objections from employers and learning it is a Democratic bill.
An aide to Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who is leading the House GOP's healthcare task force, said the party's leaders are concerned that the seven Republicans who remain on board with the Democrats otherwise tend to be free-market advocates.
The aide said the GOP's free-market-oriented bill likely will expand the use of medical savings accounts and make it easier for individuals to deduct health insurance premiums from their taxable income, as well as enact such managed-care protections as guaranteeing better access to emergency care and appeals for care denials.
Meanwhile, Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Ga.), a dentist who is sponsoring the Patient Access to Responsible Care Act, outlined some changes to his legislation. Norwood said he amended provisions allowing lawsuits against big employer-sponsored health plans to ensure that employers themselves could not be sued.
A coalition of employers and health plans took aim at PARCA last week in releasing a study of the costs of that liability provision. It would raise health insurance premiums by up to 8.6%, which could result in the loss of coverage for as many as 1.8 million workers, according to the study, conducted for the American Association of Health Plans.
Leaders of the Health Benefits Coalition, a group of major employers and health plans, said the study bolsters its argument against new legislative mandates on managed-care plans.