HR 4250 -- 07/23/98
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July 23, 1998

H.R. 4250 - Patient Protection Act of 1998
(Rep. Gingrich (R) GA and 57others)

Nearly two years ago, the President announced he would establish a non-partisan Quality Commission to make recommendations on how best to assure patient protections and quality health care. When he appointed this Commission, he directed that it develop a patients' bill of rights as its first order of business. Since last November, the President has been calling on the Congress to pass a strong, enforceable patients' bill of rights. It was not until last week that the Republican Leadership finally introduced long-overdue legislation on this issue.

The Administration believes that the Republican Leadership's introduction of H.R. 4250 clearly demonstrates that there is broad-based consensus on the need for Federal legislation to ensure that Americans have patient protections. The President is committed to working with the Congress to pass an enforceable patients' bill of rights this year.

Unfortunately, H.R. 4250 is seriously flawed legislation. It covers too few people, it provides too few patient protections, and it contains unnecessary and irrelevant provisions that undermine the chances for a bipartisan agreement on a patients' bill of rights. As such, the Administration strongly opposes H.R. 4250, as currently drafted, and the President's senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill if it were presented to him by the Congress.

First, H.R. 4250 does not apply to the individual insurance market and therefore millions of Americans would not be assured these patient protections. The President has repeatedly stated that every health plan should have to provide its enrollees with a patients' bill of rights.

Second, this legislation does not provide many critical provisions that are necessary to assure high quality care. The following protections are either absent from this legislation or are insufficient:

  • Access to specialists. H.R. 4250 does not assure persons with chronic or serious conditions direct access to specialists. Moreover, there is no requirement that a plan cover a specialist that is not in the network if the network does not have sufficient providers to treat the condition. As such, patients would not be assured access to needed specialists to treat, for example, cancer or heart conditions.

  • Continuity of care protections. H.R. 4250 does not include a requirement that a patient's care will not abruptly change if their provider is unexpectedly dropped from a health plan or if their employer changes health plans. This provision is essential for patients -- such as pregnant women or the chronically ill -- whose care will be seriously undermined by an abrupt change.

  • Financial incentives for doctors. This legislation does not contain sufficient provisions that prevent patients from being put at risk through unknown destructive financial incentives to limit patient care.

  • Emergency room services. The emergency room services provision is insufficient, as it does not prohibit plans from limiting access to an emergency room that is outside the plan's network. Moreover, it does not address coverage of post-stabilization care, which puts patients at risk for huge costs for needed treatment that a doctor believes should take place in the facility in which they were initially admitted.

  • Gag Rules. H.R. 4250 only prohibits gags on physicians in direct contract with a plan. The majority of doctors, however, contract with plans through medical groups, third party administrators, or other arrangements. Therefore, there are no prohibitions of gag rules for most contracts.

  • External appeals. We are extremely concerned that the external appeals in H.R. 4250 are only advisory -- not binding. The right to an appeal is meaningless if health plans can disregard these decisions. Moreover, patients would be required to pay a fee to participate in an appeals process, up to $100. Consumers should be able to address serious grievances without having to pay. In addition, the plan would be allowed to develop its own definition of medical necessity making it extremely difficult for an enrollee to prevail on appeal.

  • Insufficient enforcement provision. The enforcement mechanism in this legislation is insufficient as it gives little or no recourse to patients who are injured or who die because of a health plan's actions. The proposed $250 per day penalties are wholly insufficient for patients who suffer serious harm or even death because of a wrongful action by a health plan.

Third, H.R. 4250 contains provisions that have nothing to do with patients' rights and only serve to reduce the likelihood that an acceptable agreement can be reached on this important issue. Recognizing our concerns with these provisions, the Congress agreed as recently as last year to keep them off bipartisan legislation -- specifically, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. These provisions include:

  • Caps on medical malpractice awards and limits on malpractice actions. While the Administration has consistently supported medical malpractice reforms, it opposes federally imposed caps on punitive and non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.

  • Expansion of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs). H.R. 4250 would subvert the MSA demonstration project enacted in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Under H.R. 4250, the MSA tax break may accrue only to the healthiest and wealthiest individuals and attract them out of the general health insurance market, potentially raising premiums for all other people. There is no evidence that the claimed cost containment benefit of MSAs outweighs the cost of providing a tax break primarily for healthy and higher-income individuals.

  • Association Health Plans (AHPs). H.R. 4250 would create a new insurance option for small groups and individuals that would exempt them from many existing State safeguards in such areas as solvency, marketing, underwriting, rating practices, benefits, and consumer protections. Under current law, States regulate the small group and individual markets, thereby helping to make coverage affordable. H.R. 4250 would permit AHPs to discriminate by cherry-picking healthier groups and individuals. Those remaining in the State's insurance pool would face higher premiums, leading to higher levels of uninsurance and undermining the stability of the State insurance pool.

For these reasons, the President agrees with provider organizations, such as the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, and virtually every major consumer organization that H.R. 4250 is insufficient and does not provide patients with the protections they need and deserve. While we have serious concerns with H.R. 4250, the President remains committed to passing a strong, enforceable and bipartisan patients' bill of rights this year. The bipartisan substitute legislation offered by Mr. Dingell and Dr. Ganske covers all health plans, contains strong enforceable patient protections, and has no "poison pill" provisions that have nothing to do with these patient protections. As such, the President would sign H.R. 3605 into law. It is the President's hope that Republicans and Democrats can work across party lines to put progress ahead of partisanship and pass legislation that provides Americans with the patients' protections they need and deserve.

Pay-As-You-Go Scoring

H.R. 4250 would affect both direct spending and receipts; therefore, it is subject to the pay-as-you-go requirement of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990. OMB's preliminary scoring estimate of the bill is under development.

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