Originally created 02/08/98

Meeting airs health-care problems



Sex scandals at the White House and the threat of war with Iraq will not put health insurance reforms on Congress' back burner, U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood promised.

"None of this will stop this reform effort," said Dr. Norwood, in Augusta on Saturday at University Hospital for a town hall meeting to tout his managed care reform legislation.

"There's nothing Monica Lewinsky or Saddam Hussein can do or say to make this issue go away," he said.

Dr. Norwood, R-Augusta, and Congressman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., listened to HMO-related horror stories recounted by a panel hand-picked by Virginia-based Center for Patient Advocacy and opened up the floor to anyone who had experienced problems with managed care.

Evans resident Glenn Tisdale said he recently took his wife, who was complaining of severe head pain, to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage and hospitalized for several days.

He said their insurance provider refused to pay a portion of his wife's emergency room bills because the situation was not considered life-threatening.

"Most people would view (her condition) as a serious problem," said Dr. Norwood.

But Richard Eckert, who works in University's emergency room, said insurance companies make their decisions and refuse payment based on a patient's final diagnosis -- which is not fair.

For instance, when a child comes into the emergency room with a 104-degree fever and an earache, doctors treat it as an emergency situation because "we don't know whether that child was near meningitis or what," Dr. Eckert said.

Dr. Norwood said his Patient Access to Responsible Care Act will clear up what is considered an emergency, allow patients more freedom in choosing health care services and ensure accountability if insurers fail to fulfill their contractual obligations.

But insurance providers argue that the bill would raise health care premiums, making affordable health care less accessible and duplicate more than 1,000 state consumer laws for managed care plans already on the books.

Also, insurance companies say the legislation uses wording that is too broad, resulting in "gag rule" language that undermines the quality of health care plans.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association characterized Dr. Norwood's plan as "far reaching and troublesome."