What Is the Patients’ Bill of Rights?

In their final presidential debate, Al Gore accused George W. Bush of not supporting the Dingell-Norwood bill, or the patients’ bill of rights, now pending in Congress. What’s in that bill?

It’s actually the Norwood-Dingell bill (the Republican, Rep. Charles Norwood of Georgia, gets top billing over the Democrat, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan), or more formally, the Bipartisan Consensus Managed Care Improvement Act of 2000. The legislation, which has passed the House, would cover all Americans with private health insurance, or about 190 million people. Among other things, the bill would put in place strict time limits for insurance companies to approve or deny treatment; if treatment is denied, a timely appeal process would be available as well as the ability to get an outside review, and patients would have the right to sue the provider. It would also guarantee access to specialists and to doctors outside of a plan network, the ability to choose the nearest emergency room even if it’s not in the plan, freedom for physicians to discuss all possible treatments, and the right of women to see a gynecologist without a referral and of children to have a pediatrician as their primary physician.

The legislation is being blocked in the Senate, whose far weaker bill would cover about 56 million people. Senate Republicans criticize Norwood-Dingell as overreaching because it usurps state legislation. Although Gore accused Bush of supporting the weaker Senate bill, Bush has not formally endorsed it although he has praised various provisions of both bills. Bush did take credit in the debate for getting a patients’ bill of rights passed in Texas. That’s not true. He vetoed the 1995 Patient Protection Act and two years later allowed a new bill to become law without his signature.

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