Richmond County Democratic Party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum's Aug. 8 letter is indicative of the greatest danger facing the five-year campaign to provide patients' rights in managed-care plans. That danger is partisan politics' potential to derail the reform effort, in spite of overwhelming majority support of both parties.
Mr. Greenbaum apparently failed to notice that President George W. Bush effectively capitulated to our U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., in a good-faith effort to end the stalemate. The president conceded to every one of the bipartisan patient protection standards developed by Reps. Norwood, John Dingell, D-Mich., Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, Marion Berry, D-Ark., and Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., John Edwards, D-N.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz.
These included the Senate-passed provisions on prescriptions drug reform, rights to participate in clinical trials, an independent medical review process that is immune from manipulation by HMOs, bans on negative incentives paid to physicians to limit treatments, and the right of every American to choose their own doctor.
In return, Mr. Norwood agreed to compromise on court remedies. The final deal calls for suits to be heard primarily in state courts, with unlimited economic damages, plus pain and suffering and punitive awards up to $3 million if HMOs wrongfully deny medically necessary care.
Now to political reality. Greenbaum writes, "Had he (Rep. Norwood) stayed the course with his colleagues, the House would have passed a real patient protection bill..." And the president would have vetoed it. We would have no patient protections or guaranteed legal rights against federally-governed HMOs for the sixth year in a row.
We don't need another bill to pass the House; we've had two of those since 1998 that resulted in nothing. We need a law, and that's what Mr. Norwood has likely accomplished, unless Senate Democrats choose to stall the issue in hopes of political gain.
As to undermining patient protections under Georgia law, Mr. Greenbaum is apparently unaware that the majority of Georgians don't have access to those state-level protections, as they don't apply to ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) plans. Which is the whole point of the federal managed care reform effort. ...
I urge Mr. Greenbaum to bury the political hatchet, and do everything possible to ensure we sign a good patients' rights bill into law this fall.
Dave Barbee, Augusta
(Editor's note: Dave Barbee is chairman of the Richmond County Republican Party.)