As Republican leaders in the House try to find the best strategy for altering the direction of the patients' bill of rights debate, they must contend with members of their own party pushing the other way.
A Democrat-supported bill passed the Senate on June 29 by a vote of 59-36. President Bush has indicated that he would not sign such a bill and instead favors a House Republican bill that puts a lower damage award cap on federal lawsuits than the Senate-approved bill and makes it harder for patients to sue in state courts.
Republican House leaders said they will take up the patients' bill of rights legislation the week of July 16, but Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), who supports a House companion to the Senate bill, wants the debate moved up to this week.
Norwood said in a written statement on July 3 that Republicans risk losing control of the House during the 2002 elections if they attempt to kill managed-care reform legislation as, he alleges, they did in the last Congress. Norwood, a dentist, said the only purpose of the Republican-backed bill sponsored by Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) is "to derail the train."
Norwood, along with the lead sponsors of the Senate companion bill, Reps. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), last week sent a letter to fellow House members urging their support of the measure.
Meanwhile, the American Medical Association is sending its top guns on the road this week to rally support in selected states for the organization's preferred version of a new patients' bill of rights.
The AMA's "National House Call" is timed to head off legislation that the House will consider and the AMA says will give too much power to HMOs. AMA officials will head to Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Ohio. The AMA strongly supports the Senate-passed patients' rights bill.
AMA President Richard Corlin, M.D., will lead the charge as the House considers versions of a patient-protection bill that could dramatically alter the relationship between physicians and HMOs. The AMA supports legislation offering patients wide latitude in lawsuits against HMOs.
"Eighty-five percent of America's patients want a patients' bill of rights, not an HMO protection act," said Corlin, a gastroenterologist from Santa Monica, Calif.
Corlin and a handful of other trustees from the AMA's board will press their case in an all-out blitz of media outlets in the five states.
"We are confident that America's patients and physicians are close to a victory over HMO abuses," said Corlin, who will travel to New York for his part in the campaign.
In an action alert that implored members to lobby their lawmakers, the AMA declared that a new patient-protection bill, sponsored by Republicans in the House, "is considerably weaker than the final version that emerged from the Senate. It is absolutely vital that your representative understands that anything less than the Senate-passed patient protection legislation is unacceptable. America deserves better. And we are too close to give up now."