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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 20, 1998

February 20, 1998

                        THE SECRETARY OF LABOR 
              SUBJECT:  Federal Agency Compliance with the 
                        Patient Bill of Rights

Last November, I directed you to review the health care programs you administer and/or oversee and report to me on the level and adequacy of the patient protections they provide. Specifically, I asked you to advise me on the extent to which those programs are in compliance with the Health Care Consumer Bill of Rights (the "Patient Bill of Rights") recommended by the Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry ("the Quality Commission").

Yesterday, you formally conveyed your reports to me through Vice President Gore. He advises me that each of your agencies is well on its way toward full compliance with the patient protections recommended by the Quality Commission. By doing so, your agencies will serve as strong models for health plans in the private sector.

Under your leadership, we are showing that it is possible and desirable to ensure that patients have the tools they need to navigate through an increasingly complex health care delivery system. We are showing that common sense solutions for all too common problems in our health systems are the right prescription not only for beneficiaries of Federally administered programs, but for our private sector colleagues as well. Your efforts illustrate that patient protections can be accomplished without excessive costs or regulations.

While the news is encouraging, your reports also indicate that we have not completed the job. Although Federal health programs are taking a leading role in providing protections to patients, your report indicates we have the regulatory and administrative authority to come into substantial compliance with the Patient Bill of Rights, and I believe that this should be one of my Administration's highest priorities.

Therefore, I hereby direct you to take the following actions consistent with the missions of your agencies to come into compliance with the Patient Bill of Rights.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall:

take all appropriate administrative actions to ensure that the Medicare and Medicaid programs come into substantial compliance with the Patient Bill of Rights, including access to specialists and improved participation in treatment decisions, by no later than December 1999; and

notify all State Medicaid directors that emergency room care protections should be consistent with the Patient Bill of Rights.

The Director of the Office of Personnel Management shall:

ensure that all 350 Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) participating carriers come into contractual compliance with the Patient Bill of Rights, particularly with regard to access to specialists, continuity of care, and access to emergency room services by no later than December 31, 1999; and

with respect to participating carriers, propose regulations to prohibit, within 90 days, practices that restrict physician-patient communications about medically necessary treatment options.

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall:

take the necessary administrative action to ensure that a sufficient appeals process is in place throughout the Veteran's Health System by September 30, 1998; and

issue a policy directive to ensure that beneficiaries in the Veteran's Health System are provided information consistent with the Patient Bill of Rights by September 30, 1998.

The Secretary of Defense shall:

establish a strong grievance and appeals process consistent with the Patient Bill of Rights throughout the military health system by September 30, 1998;

issue a policy directive to promote greater use, within the military health system, of providers who have specialized training in women's health issues to serve as primary care managers for female beneficiaries and to ensure access to specialists for beneficiaries with chronic medical conditions by September 30, 1998; and

issue a policy directive to ensure that all patients in the military health system can fully discuss all treatment options. This includes requiring disclosure of financial incentives to physicians and prohibiting "gag clauses" by September 30, 1998.

The Secretary of Labor shall:

propose regulations to strengthen the internal appeals process for all Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) health plans to ensure that decisions regarding urgent care are resolved within 72 hours and generally resolved within 15 days for non-urgent care; and

propose regulations that require ERISA health plans to ensure the information they provide to plan participants is consistent with the Patient Bill of Rights.


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