Two decades ago, there was a powerful bipartisan movement to set detailed federal standards for private insurance, fueled by a fierce public backlash against then-new managed-care plans that restricted patients' access to care. HMOs and other plans came under fire for practices such as requiring patients to get prior approval from primary-care gatekeepers to see specialists such as OB-GYNs, and rushing women out of the hospital after delivering a baby.
Following an advisory commission's recommendations, the Clinton administration, by executive order, established some consumer protections for federal health programs.
Different patient-protection bills passed the House and the Senate with support from Democrats and some Republicans like Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, as well as physician groups. Insurance executives knew they were losing the public opinion battle when movie audiences across the country cheered the curses hurled at their industry in the 1997 Oscar-nominated film “As Good as It Gets.”
In 2001, the Senate passed the Bipartisan Patient Protection Act co-sponsored by McCain and then-Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who called it “a giant step forward in giving power to the powerless, the victims of exploitation by HMOs.”
But the bill-of-rights legislation ultimately died that year, largely due to disagreement over the right to sue to enforce its provisions.