Gore, Bush Take Different Approaches to Patients’ Rights
While both Vice President Al Gore (D) and Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) have "staked out" different positions on a patients' bill of rights, their stances "might not be clear from their rhetoric," Julie Rovner reports on NPR's "All Things Considered" reports. For his part, Gore has indicated support for a bill that would extend protections, including the right to sue HMOs, to all Americans covered by private insurance. In the third presidential debate, Gore said, "We ought to have a patients' bill of rights to take away the decisions from the HMOs and give them back to the doctors and nurses." On the other hand, while Bush has said he supports a "more limited right to sue," he has "been less specific on other issues," Rovener reports. During the third debate, Bush said, "I support a national patients' bill of rights ... and I want all people covered. [But] I don't want good law to supersede good law like we've got in Texas." That statement shows Bush "sidestep[ping]" the issue of whether states or the federal government should guarantee patients protection, Rovner reports. She adds that the Norwood-Dingell bill (H.R. 2723) would pre-empt most state's patients' rights laws, but "competing" bills (S. 1344) would allow states to decide who is covered and what protections are afforded. However, those bills would not necessarily cover everyone, Rovner reports. Bush has not specified which, if any, of the patients' rights bills before Congress he would support, specifically because "he doesn't want to get pinned down in 'inside the Beltway politics,'" Rovner reports. Bush campaign spokesperson Ray Sullivan said, "There's all kind of fighting in Washington, D.C. One of the things Gov. Bush is going to bring to this process is a perspective that's not locked into Washington mentality." Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, added that Bush is not "offering specifics because specifics are going to alienate voters." She continued: "Every politician tries to calculate what he needs to reveal in order to attract, and what he can conceal in order to minimize the likelihood that people move away from him." Furthermore, Bush's lack of specifics "actually make it easier for him to govern if elected," Rovner reports. Jamieson said that Bush's "hand hasn't been laid on the table yet. And as a result, we don't know what cards he's holding when he comes and approaches Congress with his plan. He's got a lot more negotiating room." But she added, "The practical matter is it means a lot of people who read their own belief about what he was going to do into his statements are going to be disappointed because he can't please all the people all the time" (Rovner, NPR, "All Things Considered," 10/31). To listen to the report, go to http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/atc/20001031.atc.07.ram. Note: You must have RealAudio Player to hear the report. In other patients' rights news, the Los Angeles Times reports on how an effort to resolve differences between the House-passed and Senate-approved versions "fell victim to powerful interests, including intense lobbying by business groups, a lack of trust between Democratic and Republican negotiators and a deep reluctance on the part of the conservative Senate Republican leadership to see any but the most limited version become law." For example, while it appeared "there was enough support in the Senate to pass the bipartisan House version by a bare majority," Assistant Senate Majority Leader Don Nickles (R-Okla.) threatened to use parliamentary procedures to force a 60-vote majority in the Senate, instead of the usual 51 votes required. That move "made it all but impossible for the bipartisan bill to win approval in the Senate." Furthermore, House Democratic leaders "believed that they could turn failure to pass the measure to political advantage by holding Republicans responsible in ... the Nov. 7 election," and thus "never urged compromise." Other issues, such as how many people the bill should cover and differences over whether patients should be allowed to sue HMOs stalled the legislative process (Rubin, Los Angeles Times, 11/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.