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Clinton To Urge Health Care Rights

President Clinton established a "bill of rights" today for people enrolled in federal health-care programs and urged private insurers to follow the example. He said a third of all Americans will now be covered by the protections.

"We must not stop here," Clinton said as he signed an executive order extending protection to more than 80 million federal employees, enlisted soldiers, veterans and American Indians.

Today's order was signed at a senior citizen's center in suburban Wheaton, Md. The order will extend the same essential protections to seniors that Congress gave last year to those covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

"With the authority of the federal government, we will assure that a third of all Americans are protected," Clinton said. "It should be an example that the rest of America follows."

Clinton was expected to ask Congress to pass legislation that would provide the same rights to Americans covered by private health care plans. Such a measure--the only way to force the private sector into complying--would enact stronger regulations on the health insurance industry.

Clinton's order was in part a response to the growing public backlash against the nation's managed health care systems, which place numerous restraints on the kind of health care patients may receive.

The executive order has been anticipated on Capitol Hill, where several legislators were working on similar health care measures of their own. However, several interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, have said they would oppose any effort to turn the bill of rights into law.

"I know there will be voices of opposition in the Congress and the health care industry," he said. But, he added, "We need to be clear and unambiguous."

Clinton's order establishes a set of minimum standards for patient care, including:

  • Direct access to medical specialists for patients with serious conditions.
  • Emergency room visits paid for if the visit was deemed necessary by a "prudent layperson," even if it turned out nothing was wrong.
  • Right of appeal to an outside panel for any denial of medical coverage.
  • Disclosure by health plans, doctors and hospitals of a wealth of information about their services.

Written by Eun-Kyung Kim.
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