ORLANDO, Fla. -- President Bush, demanding "a new approach," vowed Wednesday to veto any patients' bill of rights legislation unless it strictly limits the ability of consumers to sue insurers or health maintenance organizations.
Bush's uncompromising stance on liability was clearly meant as a direct veto threat to the bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the strongest patient protection legislation in Congress and the only one currently that has a strong liability provision.
Addressing a convention of cardiologists in Orlando, Bush said he finds all the current proposals objectionable but focused the brunt of his criticism on the bipartisan legislation that has won majority support in the House and has the support of all Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans. He described it as lacking what he considers sufficient deterrence against "excess and frivolous litigation." And the resulting lawsuits, he predicted, will further drive up health care costs.
"To make sure health care coverage remains affordable, I will insist any federal bill have reasonable caps on damage awards. The caps in the proposed legislation before Congress are too high," the president said during a morning address at the 50th scientific session of the American College of Cardiology.
"Some proposals now before Congress fail to adequately address this problem, and would even make it worse," Bush said.
Although there is strong support in Congress for the general concept of granting patients more rights in dealing with their HMOs, there has been a tremendous lobbying effort by both employer groups and HMOs to block any plans that broaden consumer rights to recover damages if they are injured or killed by a plan's negligence. Most consumer and physician groups have said that without a strong right to recover damages, there would be no hammer to force HMOs to pay attention to consumer needs.
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