Insurance bill gives patients more recourse

If an HMO denies recommended treatment for an insured individual and the patient is adversely affected or dies because of the denial, the patient is not currently able to sue the HMO. The House of Representatives is currently debating a bill that would allow individuals to sue their HMOs in situations like these. While this type of recourse is imperative to ensure quality care for the insured, parliamentary tricks might prevent the bipartisan bill from passing.
The bill, known as the Dingell-Norwood bill, would also set up nationwide standards for health insurance companies and require health plans to disclose specific information about what is specifically covered. It also would force HMOs to allow their insured to visit emergency rooms and see specialists. HMOs worried about losing profits because of lawsuits have been lobbying extremely hard against the bill. In a particularly brazen example, House Speaker Dennis Hastert held a fund-raising breakfast Tuesday with health care industry representatives who each paid $1,000 to attend.
Lobbyists from the health care industry claim allowing patients to sue over denied care will ultimately raise premiums and swell the ranks of the uninsured. These claims are a way of avoiding accountability. Currently HMOs have no real fear of recourse if they deny care, so they have every incentive to continue denying necessary treatments. This lack of responsibility should not continue.
Although some patients will certainly sue over denied care, the solution is to re-assess the approval process, not seek to avoid responsibility. There is no reason HMOs should be exempt from litigation, particularly because the organizations deal in life and death. Furthermore, HMOs that allow doctors the final say in prescribing treatment will be much less-likely targets of litigation than HMOs that leave the ultimate decision up to a bureaucrat in an office thousands of miles away.
Despite the strong opposition of HMOs and other insurance companies, the bill enjoys bipartisan support with almost all of the House Democrats and a few Republicans supporting it. However, parliamentary tricks might spell doom for the bill. Although the rules for debate have not been entirely worked out, if the bill does pass, it will be combined with an unrelated tax bill. Because many Democrats oppose the tax bill, combining the two creates a Hobson’s choice for many members of the House. These tactics are an insult to the whole country, as they prevent a true measure of legislative support for either bill.
Representatives are so named because their job is to represent the views of their constituents. U.S. citizens overwhelmingly support the basic concepts of the Dingell-Norwood bill. If the legislative tricks prevent the bill from passing, it will be a travesty. The leaders of the House should stop allowing partisan politics to overshadow the responsibility of creating effective and fair laws for the country.