WASHINGTON (AP) -- The patients' bill of rights passed by the Republican-run House amounts to an "HMO and insurance company protection act," Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., said Saturday.
Berry, in the Democrats' weekly radio address, slammed Georgia Republican Rep. Charlie Norwood's "compromise" amendment -- announced last week with the blessing of President Bush -- as gutting provisions Democrats hoped would be in the House version of the bill.
"A compromise is not an agreement reached behind closed doors between two members of the same party, especially when it contradicts the principles so fundamental to one side," Berry said.
Under the Republican-backed House measure, all Americans with health insurance would receive new protections, including guarantees of coverage for emergency room care, treatment by medical specialists and access to government-sponsored clinical trials.
Patients denied coverage could appeal to an outside, independent expert and they would be guaranteed a timely verdict.
But Republicans and Democrats were divided over the issues of where lawsuits against health maintenance organizations could be filed and limits on damages that patients could receive.
The Senate has passed a different patients' rights bill, so lawmakers will have to go into conference to draft a final version. Bush had threatened to veto Democratic legislation, saying it would encourage frivolous lawsuits and drive up the cost of insurance.
Berry suggested that the Republicans are seeking to create an impasse between the House and the Senate with the differing bills to prevent any managed-care reform package from becoming law.
"What the House actually passed was an HMO and insurance company protection act that would leave patients with fewer options for legal recourse than they have now," he said.
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