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Clinton Threatens Health Bill Veto

President Clinton says he will veto a bill governing how Americans deal with their health plans if it does not allow patients to sue HMOs.

"It's not a real Patient's Bill of Rights if it denies people the right to see a specialist, if it fails to guarantee access to the nearest emergency room care, if it denies the right to stay with the health care provider throughout a course of treatment, and if it has a weak appeals process that tilted against the patients," the president said.

Mr. Clinton made the statement Thursday at a White House rally that coincides with the attempt in Congress this week to reach a compromise on the touchy issue.

The House and Senate have passed bills that offer patient protections, but they differ on liability and who would be covered.

The House bill, supported by the White House, Democrats and many Republicans, allows lawsuits and covers 161 million Americans with private insurance. The Senate bill, crafted by Republicans, doesn't allow lawsuits and covers 48 million Americans whose health plans are exempt from state regulations.

Mr. Clinton has long supported a patient's right to take health plans to court if the plan denies needed care.

A bipartisan group of House members and senators came to the White House today to endorse the House approach. A House-Senate conference hopes to write a compromise bill by March 31.

Insurers and corporations vehemently oppose a right to sue, arguing it will raise premiums. They've conducted their own polls suggesting many workers would lose coverage because companies, fearing lawsuits, would stop offering health plans.