Originally created 12/01/99

Norwood: Elections may help legislation



A bill that would allow patients to sue their managed care companies if denied care now sits in a conference committee awaiting a merger with a much less aggressive U.S. Senate bill.

But chief proponent U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., can see a light at the end of his five-year fight. As the next session of Congress edges closer to election time next year, it may actually help his bill, he said Tuesday.

Mr. Norwood addressed nursing students at Medical College of Georgia and those on its Athens and Columbus campuses through distance learning.

Most self-insured companies slip out of state regulations through a loophole in federal law, and there currently is no federal legislation that would allow them to be sued for injuring or killing a patient, Mr. Norwood said.

"When they kill somebody, they don't have to be responsible. I find that absurd," he said.

Many companies also deny a chance to choose a primary care doctor or restrict access to specialists, he said. "That is alien to me. In the United States of America, you can't choose your doctor?"

Getting that changed has been a long battle for Mr. Norwood, beginning when he first took office in 1995, with each succeeding bill becoming more finely honed and attracting more co-sponsors.

The Bipartisan Consensus Managed Care Improvement, co-sponsored with John Dingell, D-Mich., was overwhelmingly passed by the House this year. It would allow patients injured by a denial of treatment from their insurer to sue in state court. It also would provide an external appeals process, choice of doctor and the right to choose local providers, see specialists and coverage of emergency room visits. Another House bill allowed patients to sue in federal court; the Senate version did not cover insurer liability at all, Mr. Norwood said.

That will be the sticking point -- the provision is opposed by many in his own party, including the House leadership. But it is popular with the public and a majority of the Congress.

"I think they will come out with a good bill. In fact, I think they will come out with such a good bill, from my point of view and the Republican point of view, that the president will veto it," Mr.Norwood said. But the issue's popularity with voters might make it more attractive as campaigns heat up next year, he said.

Family nurse practitioner student Crystal Chatman-Brown said she was already very familiar with the connection between politics and health care.

"It will be a little difficult, but I think there's hope for managed care reform," she said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.