Healthcare workers would receive job security and other sweeping protections under a managed-care reform bill sponsored by Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.).
The bill would prohibit health plans from retaliating or discriminating against health professionals who reported questionable conduct by plans to state or federal authorities.
It also would bar plans from punishing caregivers who initiated, cooperated with or participated in investigations of plans.
The protections would extend to employees of plans and employees of providers that contract with health plans nationwide.
The bill mirrors California legislation that protects whistleblowing hospital employees. Gov. Gray Davis signed the bill into law last month (July 26, p. 4).
The American Nurses Association, which represents 2.6 million registered nurses nationwide, aggressively supports the bill, especially the employee protections.
But hospitals oppose the sweeping protections in the bill, saying they apply not only to patients but also to healthcare workers. Hospitals fear such protections would allow employees to avoid layoffs or job terminations, which are sometimes needed to control cost and quality of care.
"This is clearly a union-organizing issue that has nothing to do with managed care," said Thomas Scully, president of the Federation of American Health Systems, which represents for-profit hospitals. "Anyone in the hospital business is going to go nuts when they see this. It's an absolutely outrageous provision. We will do everything we can to kill it."
A Democratic aide said he was surprised that the employee protections caused "a last-minute flurry" of lobbying by the hospitals, since the same provisions were included in last year's Patient Bill of Rights.
"It's an attempt by the hospitals to raise this to a level of controversy at the last minute," the aide said. "They argue that the language is too broad and that these provisions already exist in current law, but they have yet to show us where they exist."