HMO Reform ‘Inevitable,’ Lobbyists Say
With Democrats grabbing several additional seats in the Senate after the election, Washington lobbyists are reaching a "growing consensus" that Congress will pass and the president will sign patients' rights legislation with provisions "long opposed" by businesses and HMOs, CongressDaily reports. Lobbyists are "warning the managed care industry and its allies to gird themselves, and to focus on making the measure as palatable as they can." One top Republican lobbyist said, "The odds of a patients' bill of rights passing [next year] are much, much higher." Another senior GOP lobbyist predicted that the bill would "move early," arguing that Republicans may want to "get the issue off their plate" and that Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R), should he "limp into the presidency," may want a "quick legislative victory." Last week, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), a managed care "ally," told lobbyists and American Association of Health Plans board members that GOP lawmakers "want [the issue] behind them" and indicated that Congress will likely pass a bill. Boehner spokesperson Mike Sommers added, "The message was that this group and groups that share their concerns must participate in the process, particularly with a smaller Senate majority." In addition, business advocates worry that Bush and some GOP lawmakers who have opposed managed care reform may consider a patients' rights bill a "rare, salvageable item" from a session of Congress "largely characterized by gridlock." Peggy Taylor, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, said that unions would back patients' rights legislation, "one of only a handful of issues" that the organization used to "energize" members this year. "This looks like something that could happen relatively early," she said. However, some Republicans deny claims that patients' rights legislation is "unavoidable." One GOP "insider" said, "It has a very good chance, but it's not as inevitable as everyone thinks," adding that the issue "has not stirred strong enthusiasm" among voters. Another lobbyist also noted that Democrats, still seeking a House majority, may not want to "hand Republicans a legislative achievement" (Koffler, CongressDaily, 11/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.