ST. PAUL -- Despite their budget standoff, lawmakers will return to the Capitol on Tuesday and try to eke out a few more bills, including one that would give consumers more protection on their health coverage.
That proposal would require insurance companies to give some people more time to find a new doctor if theirs is terminated from the policy, require insurance companies to honor standing referrals to specialists in some cases and require coverage of patient costs for certain clinical trials.
It would help seriously ill people the most.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kevin Goodno, R-Moorhead, said it would give some protection to consumers without raising the cost of insurance.
He encouraged members of his caucus to leave the bill the way it is without offering amendments.
''It's a compromise,'' he said. ''I have been working on this all session.''
Some DFLers don't think the bill goes far enough and may try to add a provision to the bill that would allow patients to sue their health maintenance organizations for denying coverage.
A similar provision has already passed the DFL-controlled Senate as part of a larger health care rights bill.
Attorney General Mike Hatch, who helped write it, said the measure would make insurers more accountable for their actions, giving Minnesotans a weapon to fight back when they are refused treatment.
Minnesotans now can sue their insurers, but only for the cost of coverage, not damages. Under the current system, the incentive is for insurers to deny coverage, said Hatch, who ran for office in 1998 as a health-care crusader.
He said the idea of being able to sue HMOs is not to have more lawsuits, but to make insurers and HMOs more accountable.
Opponents, including many Republicans and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, say patient satisfaction isn't the problem, spiraling costs are.
Goodno said he would withdraw the bill from consideration if that provision were added.
It earlier was added by an overwhelming vote to an insurance bill that later was withdrawn.
House Minority Leader Tom Pugh, DFL-South St. Paul, said legislators in his party hadn't yet decided whether the amendment would be offered to Goodno's bill.
He said they were still hoping the insurance bill would come back up on the floor.
''We certainly hope that it goes forward,'' he said.
Meanwhile, House and Senate leaders will continue trying to reach an overall budget agreement. The Senate is sticking by a Department of Finance number of $549 million for ongoing tax cuts and spending. The House thinks more money is available, including about $40 million per year in tobacco settlement money.
Lawmakers have only 10 session days left that they can meet.
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