Patients’ Rights Debate Lacks Honesty

Published August 1, 2001

There is something very important missing from the Patients’ Bill of Rights (PBOR) … and from the politicians’ discussion of what the pending legislation entails.

In a word, honesty is missing. What we are not being told is that a very large segment of the population is in for a big shock: They are excluded from any protection under legislation currently being considered.

More than 80 Million Excluded

Over 45 million seniors insured by Medicare will not be able to file suit against the government for alleged denial of claims. Another 20 million Americans insured by Medicaid; 3.2 million VA beneficiaries; 7.3 million children covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program; and over 3 million government employees insured in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan would also be excluded from the Bill of Rights’ mandates, directives, and litigation provisions.

Stephen Barchet MD, retired rear admiral in the United States Navy and project manager for the Defined Contribution Project at the Evergreen Foundation, reminded me I should add 8 million more American men and women, dependents and retirees in the armed forces who are insured by the federal TRICARE program.

Can’t Afford the Litigation

It is widely acknowledged the government health care system is shot full of so many administrative holes that fraud and abuse are no longer the exception. Democrats and Republicans know this . . . and they are unwilling to expose the country’s largest health care provider to potential litigation. According to Robert Moffit, director of public policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, “This is not an oversight. This is deliberate. The reason is that the government can’t afford it. They know that there would be an absolute explosion in costs to defend lawsuits. In Medicare, for instance, the denial of claims for medical necessity exceeds that of the private sector.”

Why are Democrats and some Republicans unwilling to expose federal health plans to litigation, yet very willing to expose the private sector to what they admit is a dangerous and expensive piece of health care reform? How they can turn face and say the negative effect on the private sector will be minor?

Why should private health insurers be subjected to a health care system the federal government rejects for its own beneficiaries?

Given the reality of a country rapidly growing older, with more Americans going on federal health insurance plans excluded from the protection of the so-called patient’s bill of rights, the smaller and younger population will be left to shoulder the increased costs.

Avoiding the Real Issues

This is no bill of rights for anyone, and it’s no bargain for my growing family of grandchildren. At best, it is a diversion from having to deal with the more difficult problems of the increasing uninsured rate, expanding MSA legislation, passing health insurance tax reform law, and in the larger scope of things, restoring free-market order to the health care system. At worst, it’s another incremental attempt to over-regulate our health care system to the point where a single-payer health plan will look like a good alternative.

The PBOR is now in the hands of the House of Representatives. We can only hope they will show themselves to be representatives of common sense, and admit most of what they are trying to accomplish is already being addressed at the state level and in the private sector.

That would allow our national politicians to save face, scrap the PBOR, go home early for Thanksgiving . . . and best of all, “do no harm.”