Senate Democrats, in concert with the White House, tried last week to pump life into the issue of managed-care regulation but were blocked in their efforts to add the measure to an unrelated bill.
Yet the issue that has stalled on Capitol Hill appears to be gaining significance in the eyes of the public.
According to a survey released last week by the Kaiser-Harvard Program on the Public and Health/Social Policy, 65% of respondents said they favor some form of government managed-care regulation, up from 52% in September 1997.
"The president's troubles may have sidetracked legislative action for now, but this issue is likely to return to the legislative agenda, because the public's underlying concerns are still there," said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Kaiser-Harvard study was one of nearly a dozen managed-care surveys or reports released in the past two weeks (See related stories, pages 38 and 40).
The Kaiser-Harvard survey found that support for regulation drops when people find out it will cost them something. The survey found 78% support "consumer protections" but found only 40% support consumer protections that would increase insurance premium rates by $200 a year.
Meanwhile, 57% of respondents to a survey released earlier this month by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association said they want Congress to wait until after the November elections to act on managed-care regulation (Sept. 14, p. 4).
Yet another study, released last week, was critical of the quality of managed-care plans and of plans' dissemination of quality information.
According to a report to be released later this month in Consumer Reports, patients have little information on which to gauge the quality of their health plans, and congressional proposals for managed-care reform do not address the gap.
The studies should supply some new ammunition for Senate Democrats, who tried to revive the regulation last week.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) attempted to attach the Democratic "Patients' Bill of Rights" to a spending measure for the Interior Department. The move touched off a flurry of parliamentary moves that effectively kept the bill from coming to a vote. Democrats vowed to continue to try to attach the managed-care bill to other unrelated legislation.
Meanwhile, President Clinton called on Congress to focus on managed-care regulation before it finishes its work this year.
Separately, Clinton announced regulations that will bring state Medicaid programs into compliance with the patients' bill of rights developed by a White House commission.
The HHS regulations will require Medicaid managed-care plans to give enrollees access to emergency and specialty care and will forbid plans to restrict what physicians can tell enrollees about treatment options.