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HMO Debate Moves To House

The House is preparing for bitter debate on health maintenance organizations after the Senate passed a Republican version of the patients' bill of rights Thursday night. The bill provides new rules for covering patients in managed health systems.

President Clinton called the bill Â"an empty promiseÂ" and said he would veto it, reports CBS White House Correspondent Bill Plante.
"This should be about protecting patients, not insurance companies," Mr. Clinton said in a statement made after the 53 to 47 vote.

"President Clinton will veto it in a minute," Vice-President Al Gore said. "It has zero chance of going past his desk."

Still, Republicans noted that Clinton has changed his position in the past.

The bill is several committees and months away from Mr. Clinton and compromise now seems very unlikely.

The Senate's version of the bill

  • Affects the 48 million Americans in HMO plans funded through major companies
  • Provides no benefits to 100 million others
  • Allows for extended hospital stays after breast cancer surgery
  • Eases restrictions on emergency room and specialist care
  • Does not give patients and doctors the final decisions on care
  • Does not allow patients to sue their HMOs
Democrats spent the past couple of days trying to sell their own plan, but the Republican majority, held and pushed by the Insurance industry, killed every Democratic reform.

"The insurance companies said jump and the Republicans in the United States Senate said how high," said Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Senate Democrats blasted Republicans for striking down amendments which would have given patients greater power in dealing with their health insurance providers, including:

  • Allowing patients to sue their HMOs
  • Allowing women to designate their OB/GYNs as primary care providers
  • Allowing doctors, not insurance companies, to have the final say in what kind of care is in the patient's best interest
Republicans claimed the Democrat amendments went too far.

"We don't think that the source of all wisdom when it comes to health care is in Washington," said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla. "We really don't have the philosophy that one size fits all, that government knows best."

GOP Senators argued the Democrats' demands would have driven up health care costs to the point of putting insurance companies out of business.

Now the argument about giving patients and doctors the final say over their health care will most likely go to the campaign trail—the Democrats will want credit for trying while Republicans will want credit for doing something rather than nothing.

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