OUCH!: Patients Rights vs Insurers Money

Remember the "Patients Bill of Rights"? Last fall, the House and Senate passed two very different bills covering the rights of patients in dealing with their health insurers. A conference committee named then is only now beginning the critical process of drafting a common bill. Public opinion favors the provisions of the House bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Charlie Norwood (R-GA) and John Dingell (D-MI), which would curb many abuses by managed care companies and allow patients to sue HMOs in state court when denials of service lead to injury or death. But the insurance industry, which supports the much weaker Senate bill, still has many arrows in its quiver.Start with the fact that the insurers have poured $42.6 million in campaign contributions to federal candidates and parties from 1997 to the present, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Nearly 70 percent of that money has gone to Republicans.Then consider that while the House bill passed 275-151, with 68 Republicans joining most of the House Democrats, when it came time to name the members of the conference committee, only one of the Republicans picked by House Speaker Dennis Hastert had actually voted for the bill. His choices, in fact, look like a "murderers' row" for the insurance lobby.Compared to other industry sectors, contributions from the insurance industry in 1997-98 ranked as #1 for conference committee members Nancy Johnson ($212,332), Tom Bliley ($92,000), Dan Burton ($50,680) and Bill Archer ($30,927). It was the #2 donor to conferees John Boehner ($62,525) and Porter Goss ($14,000). And it came in third for members Bill Thomas ($88,750), Jim McCrery ($30,496), and Michael Bilirakis ($27,731), who is the lone Republican conferee to vote for the bill.Finally, the House's patients rights legislation comes packaged with unrelated measures aimed at expanding medical savings accounts and increasing the deductibility of various health insurance premiums for people who buy their own insurance. These proposals will cost the Treasury billions, and threaten to shift health costs further onto the backs of sicker and less wealthy portions of the population. If these provisions are included in the final bill, President Clinton has promised to veto it.Why the insistence on such controversial provisions? Medical savings accounts are the pet project of the Golden Rule Insurance Company, whose PAC and executives have given nearly $2 million to congressional candidates since 1993, 85 percent to Republicans.OUCH! is a regular e-mail bulletin on how private money in politics hurts average citizens, published by Public Campaign, a non-partisan, non-profit organization devoted to comprehensive campaign finance reform.

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