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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 17, 1999


Today, the Congress is beginning its work on patients' rights legislation. This issue is critical to assuring Americans high quality health care in the 21st Century, so I am pleased that we are moving forward.

Unfortunately, the proposal by the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee falls far short of the legislation the American people deserve. Because it applies patients' rights only to those in self-insured plans, this proposal leaves 120 million Americans in insured and individual plans without the guarantee of critical protections. Millions of Americans should not be held hostage to the hope that their state might pass legislation providing these protections. In fact, while states have the authority to pass patient protections for these plans, not one has enacted all of these protections. That is why we need strong Federal legislation to ensure that all health plans provide patients these important rights.

Even for those it does cover, the Chairman's proposal leaves out many of the most fundamental protections. For example, it does not have an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that patients are compensated when they are injured or die as a result of a health plan's decisions; it does not assure patients access to specialists, such as oncologists or heart specialists; and it leaves out continuity of care protections. That is why every major patient, doctor, and nurse advocacy organization has concluded that this proposal is simply inadequate.

Today represents the first test of whether this new Congress is serious about providing Americans with a strong, enforceable patients' bill of rights to assure high quality health care. I urge the Committee to do everything it can to pass this test and give Americans the health care protections they need.