The House lurched closer to a vote on managed-care regulation last week as Republicans tried to block bipartisan legislation that would allow enrollees to sue health plans for injury or death resulting from denial of covered benefits.
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee's Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee, unveiled a bill that seeks to slow the momentum of legislation that would expand health plan liability.
Like legislation passed in the Senate, Boehner's Comprehensive Access and Responsibility in Health Care Act excludes liability provisions but has protections, such as external review of coverage denials and direct access to emergency medical care.
The bill hasn't gained the endorsement of most GOP leaders, but Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas) appeared at a press conference in favor of the measure. "My presence here signifies my support for this bill," Armey said in response to a question about GOP leadership support.
Republican leaders, meanwhile, scrambled to weaken the drive to expand health plan liability.
A bipartisan bill sponsored by Reps. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), a dentist, and John Dingell (D-Mich.), along with a bill sponsored by Republican Reps. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John Shadegg (Ariz.), would permit lawsuits.
House leaders appeared likely to call votes on the bills the week of Oct. 4. It was unclear which would be the base bill, but legislation allowing lawsuits is likely to win a House vote.
Sources who have met with House Republican leaders said they're now trying to keep to a minimum the number of votes in favor of health plan liability. If a bill including liability gets 300 votes in the 435-member House-sending a strong signal to the Senate-it would be hard to keep a liability provision out of compromise legislation emerging from a House-Senate conference.