More legal rights for HMO patients and less antitrust scrutiny for physicians top the American Medical Association's federal legislative agenda this year-an agenda aimed largely at reducing the power of health insurers.
The AMA unveiled its wish list last week at a press conference in Washington.
Also on the AMA's "top tier" of legislative priorities are an expansion of healthcare coverage and passage of a Medicare prescription drug benefit, said the AMA's immediate past president, Thomas Reardon, M.D.
The broad agenda, which Reardon described as "ambitious," also includes Medicare reform, regulatory relief for physicians, patient safety, research and medical education funding.
Reardon said the AMA "strongly supports" patients' rights legislation last introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). The bill would allow beneficiaries to sue HMOs over coverage decisions, but it would cap punitive damages.
The AMA will push to have a bill on antitrust reform introduced in Congress this year. Reardon said the rapidly consolidating health insurance market means that physicians have less power to negotiate terms of managed-care contracts.
"The patients are in a take-it-or-leave-it situation; physicians are in a take-it-or-leave-it situation-and the insurance company easily dominates," Reardon said.
The AMA, however, will need to find a new champion for its antitrust reform efforts in Congress. Rep. Thomas Campbell (R-Calif.), who sponsored such legislation last year, lost his seat in November 2000. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate without a vote.