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Patients’ Bill of Rights Introduced in U.S. House
In One of Last Official Acts, Dying Congressman Submits Legislation
By John Falardeau, ACA Vice President of Government Relations
The late congressman Charlie Norwood (R-GA) came to Congress in 1995, part of the Republican wave that took the House of Representatives for the first time since the mid-1950s. Since his first day, more than a dozen years ago, Rep. Norwood immersed himself in one major issue: ending the managed-care abuse that had been plaguing providers and patients for decades.
Norwood was true to his word. Soon after coming to Washington, he introduced a “Patients’ Bill of Rights,” which contained language that, among other things, would allow patients to file lawsuits against health maintenance organizations for improper medical decisions and enable patients to go out of network in the appeals process. All provisions were designed to “level the playing field” for providers and patients, including doctors of chiropractic.
The day before he died, Norwood reintroduced the original version of the Patients' Bill of Rights legislation (H.R. 979). The bill—originally authored in 1998 by Norwood, now-House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) and former Rep. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa)—passed the House in 1999, but it was rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate. In 2001, a different version of the legislation was approved by the Senate, but the bill lost Democratic support because of a compromise Norwood accepted to avoid a presidential veto.
John Stone, spokesperson for Norwood, said in an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the day the bill was introduced that an analysis of returning members of Congress indicates the legislation will have an easier chance of passage.
There are several provisions in this year’s version of the bill—and past versions for that matter—that concern ACA. For example, a section of the bill deals with “participation or indemnification.” Back in the 1990s when the legislation was first being considered, ACA, along with other providers, had urged that the language be changed to include “participation, reimbursement and indemnification.” This would require equal pay for the same service no matter the licensure of the provider. It is also consistent with existing provisions in Medicare. ACA will again work to incorporate changes needed in the bill to best serve chiropractic.
Chairman Dingell has vowed to move the Patients’ Bill of Rights in honor of his departed colleague. Whether the bill passes by a large enough margin to override a presidential veto, or gets traction in the Senate, remains to be seen. What is known, however, is that legislators are listening to the stories of managed-care abuses that plague providers and patients alike. A bulldog like Charlie Norwood will be missed … and Congress owes it to his memory to get the job done.