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Will Patients Have the Right To Sue Their HMOs?

Momentum is building in Congress for a patients' bill of rights, including a strong provision that would give people in the United States the right to sue their managed health plans.

President Bush threatens to veto this version, but as CBS' Bob Schieffer reports, the bill got a big boost today from a Republican congressman.

In a key development, Georgia Republican Charlie Norwood broke with the White House and said he'd push legislation to give patients the right to sue their HMOs.

"They were obviously hoping that by intense lobbying they could persuade me to see it their way. Neither of us were able to succeed," Norwood says.

Norwood is a Republican dentist who split with Republican House leaders over HMO reform last year, but the president urged him to stand aside this year. Norwood's refusal gave a big boost to reform backers and Democrats.

"Congressman Norwood's decision is terrific news. We are extremely pleased," says Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota.

The industry has spent millions to block the legislation, claiming it would drive up costs for employers and patients alike. An industry-sponsored advertisement suggests that lawsuits against employers and high premiums could cost some their businesses.

But even members of Congress have HMO horror stories. It's stories like New Jersey Republican Chris Smith's--whose dying parents were denied HMO help--that are driving support for HMO reform.

"The ultimate insult was when my father was told that the tracheotomy he had--he had stomach cancer--the anesthesia would not be covered," Smith says.

Norwood's support will help backers, but it won't be a cakewalk. From Belgium, the president leveled what sounded like a veto threat as he repeated previous objections.

"I meant what I said. I can't live with the bill," Bush says. "'Can't living' with a bill means it won't become law."

The president is holding out for a bill that limits the damages a patient can collect, and wants cases tried only in federal court--where critics say it would take longer to set them for trial. The lines are drawn for Washington's next big battle, which could prove to be a tough one.
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