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Patients’ Bill of Rights Under Siege in New Corporate Ad Campaign

March 26, 1999

Patients’ Bill of Rights Under Siege in New Corporate Ad Campaign

Business Media Blitz to Hit Key Members
During Congressional Recess

America’s biggest corporations are again spending big bucks on a Big Lie ad campaign to scare consumers away from supporting the pro-consumer Patients’ Bill of Rights bills now being debated in Congress. Two of America’s biggest corporate trade associations, the Health Benefits Coalition and the Business Roundtable, announced March 22 that they will buy $2 million in radio and television ads to air in coming weeks in the districts of swing members of the House of Representatives and Senate.

The ads are designed to convince workers and consumers that allowing patients to hold HMOs and other health plans accountable in court for medical malpractice will result in much higher health care costs and threaten the loss of employer-provided health insurance.

In reality, as the attached documents show, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost per enrollee of these consumer protections at $24 per year. This is significantly less than the $40 cost per enrollee in Oxford Health Plans, a leading managed care plan, for the executive compensation of their five top executives.

Both the Senate and the House are continuing last year’s struggles over the scope of Patients’ Bill of Rights bills, designed to better protect consumers in managed health care plans. A key Senate committee passed its bill March 18, which did not include provisions that would allow injured patients to hold HMOs accountable for those injuries in state courts. The Senate Republican leadership has vowed to block any bill that included a “right to sue” provision. Thus it will take a supermajority of 60 votes to overcome a threatened Republican filibuster. House committees have begun hearings on the bills.

The new disinformation campaign continues the disturbing trend begun by the infamous “Harry and Louise” ads on which the health insurance industry spent more than $17 million in 1994. Since the debate on Patients’ Bill of Rights legislation began in the last Congress, the Health Benefits Coalition, the Business Roundtable, and the American Association of Health Plans have spent or announced plans to spend tens of millions more dollars on misleading media ads.

Last year’s House votes on the Patients’ Bill of Rights bills were extremely close. The major House substitute (Dingell-Ganske), which gave consumers the right to take HMOs to court, failed by only five votes, 212-217. In a new Congress with a narrower House majority pro-consumer forces could prevail. That’s why the radio and television blitz by the Business Roundtable and the Health Benefits Coalition targets swing votes: Blue Dog Democrats and moderate Republicans.

Corporate America wants Congress to continue a special legal deal that protects HMOs and other managed care organizations from liability for injuries they inflict on patients. This special protection is given to private sector employer-paid health insurance plans. They are lobbying to keep the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) provisions that immunize these managed care companies from medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits under state law. This special protection leaves 125 million health care consumers without any mechanism to hold their health plans fully accountable for the consequences of their medical malpractice, including additional medical bills because of the complications of denied care; lost wages and other economic losses; pain and suffering due to loss of a limb, blindness or paralysis; and mental anguish.

Health care plans, shielded by the current law from full accountability to the patients they injure, are given a huge incentive to deny necessary and appropriate care. Allowing consumers to hold their insurers accountable in state court would give managed care companies the proper incentive to make sound medical decisions in the first instance.

The attached fact sheets detail the lies underlying this deceptive ad campaign and the importance of giving consumers the right to hold their managed care plans accountable in court.

Possible House targets include:

Bud Cramer AL-5
Spencer Bachus AL-6
Marion Berry AR-1
Mike Thompson CA-1
Ellen Tauscher CA-10
Gary Condit CA-18
Stephen Horn CA-38
Loretta Sanchez CA-46
Brian P. Bilbray CA-49
Christopher Shays CT-4
Allen Boyd FL-2
Charles T. Canady FL-12
Mark Foley FL-16
Sanford Bishop GA-2
Charlie Norwood GA-10
James A. Leach IA-1
Greg Ganske IA-4
Bill Lipinski IL-3
David Phelps IL-19
Baron Hill IN-9
Dennis Moore KS-3
Ken Lucas KY-4
John Cooksey LA-5
Christopher John LA-7
Wayne T. Gilchrest MD-1
Constance A. Morella MD-8
David Minge MN-2
Collin Peterson MN-7
Ronnie Shows MS-4
Gene Taylor MS-5
Pat Danner MO-6
Jim Gibbons NV-2
Charles F. Bass NH-2
Marge Roukema NJ-5
Rodney P. Frelinghuysen NJ-11
Michael P. Forbes NY-1
Sherwood Boehlert NY-23
Mike McIntyre NC-7
Steven LaTourette OH-19
Tim Holden PA-6
Lindsey Graham SC-3
Max Sandlin TX-1
Jim Turner TX-2
Ralph Hall TX-4
Kevin Brady TX-8
Charles Stenholm TX-17
Zach Wamp TN-3
John Tanner TN-8
Owen Pickett VA-2
Norm Sisisky VA-4
Virgil Goode VA-5
Thomas Petri WI-6