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Patients' Bill of Rights Nearing Conclusion

Prospects for congressional passage of the long-stalled Patients' Bill of Rights have just taken a turn for the better. It appears likely the legislation will include a right to sue your HMO.

CBS's Bob Schieffer on Capitol Hill reports how close they are to a deal and how the deal is being done to bypass President Bush's veto threats.

The Patients' Bill of Rights, which was pronounced dead last week, has suddenly come to life and the White House and key congressmen are scrambling to find a compromise version that the president can sign. The hope is that the bill will be signed by the end of the week.

Mr. Bush came to the capitol knowing there is overwhelming public support for a version of the bill he has threatened to veto, the version that allows patients to sue their HMOs, and publicly, he was sticking to his guns.

The president said, "We’re working on a Patients' Bill of Rights that will benefit patients, not necessarily trial lawyers."

In fact, the compromise being worked on isn't that different from the bill the president dislikes. Patients in nearly all health plans would retain the right to sue their HMOs in state courts.

But the compromise protects large companies like Catapiller, who operate their own health plans, from such lawsuits, which the companies claim could bankrupt them. Complaints against them would be settled in federal courts where damages would be capped.

Even as the deal was being worked on, the Senate Democratic leader jibed the president for being too picky.

"He has said over and over, this is 90% of what I want, but he will veto the entire bill on the basis of the remaining 10%. That level of inflexibility is not the way to govern," said Daschle, Senate Democratic leader.

But late today one architect of the legislation still had his fingers crossed.

"I’m right next to my telephone waiting to hear from the president or his people, suggesting they want to talk to me, that they want to talk to all of us," said Congressman John Dingle.

These things are never done until the last "i" is dotted and the last "t" crossed, but there is a growing feeling that both sides are finally trying to get this done. They know that the public wants it.
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