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Kansas City Star
Sep 12, 2000
by Alan Bavley
Patient-Advocacy Group Applies Pressure on Missouri SenatorsA patient-advocacy group Monday called on Missouri's two Republican senators to support a patients' bill of rights they had previously voted against.
"The real patients' bill of rights is being held hostage in the Senate," Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said at a news conference in Kansas City. "Either of these senators from Missouri could set (it) free."
The Norwood-Dingell patients' rights bill passed the House of Representatives. It failed in the Senate by a close vote. U.S. Sens. Kit Bond and John Ashcroft of Missouri voted against it.
A second Senate vote is expected this month. Court said the shift of a single vote would ensure passage.
The Norwood-Dingell bill would greatly expand the number of persons allowed to sue their insurance plans for damages if they are refused services covered by their policies.
Opponents of the bill argue it would raise the cost of health care, forcing some employers to stop providing coverage to workers.
Court said the cost would be small; just the threat of lawsuits would serve as a deterrent to insurance companies from denying services.
"We don't expect lawsuits to be used," Court said. "But it makes a tremendous difference in the amount of respect given to consumers."
Having the right to sue would have helped in fighting her HMO when it denied her daughter, Sophia, therapy for autism, April McCormick said at the news conference.
McCormick said her HMO sent her daughter to doctors who were unqualified to evaluate or treat autism and refused to authorize payment for therapy.
"It took a great toll on my emotional health and my family's life," the Independence woman said. "No one should have to go through what my family did just to get treatment."
Court was optimistic that at least one of the senators up for re-election this November who voted against the bill would change his vote. That could be Ashcroft, he said.
Ashcroft is in a close race with Democratic opponent, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan.
"I think (Ashcroft) should, and I think he will, change his vote," Court said, "given the heat on this issue politically."
Ashcroft spokesman Greg Harris said the senator considered the Norwood-Dingell bill "a good effort, an important contribution to the debate."
"He wants to see a strong patients' bill of rights passed by the Senate, so decisions are made by doctors and patients and not insurance claims adjusters."
However, legislation must protect employers from lawsuits, Harris said. "We can't expose employers to legal liability when they don't do anything wrong."
Bond's office issued a statement from the senator that he supported a strong patients' rights bill, "but the Norwood-Dingell bill is the wrong way to do that because it puts health care decisions in the courtroom instead of the doctor's office."
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