Universal Health Care
Our nation's health care system is failing because it is unable to provide high-quality medical care to all individuals. Despite numerous debates and discussions on the uninsured, Congress has failed to provide a viable solution to this national crisis. Unfortunately, individuals' lives and health continue to deteriorate each and every day while we remain in gridlock.
There are over 44 million people in our nation without health care, including 11 million children. Three quarters of the uninsured are in families headed by a full-time worker. Fifty percent of the uninsured are minorities. Seventeen percent of these uninsured are African American and twenty-six percent are Hispanic. These individuals encounter the greatest obstacles obtaining basic health care. Ensuring access to quality health care for all Americans is one of my priorities as your Representative.
Congressional Universal Health Care Task Force
It's time to put the needs of patients over the profits of corporations. As co-chair of the Congressional Universal Health Care Task Force, I am working with my colleagues to address the health care crisis through substantive, comprehensive legislative proposals.
Our task force has introduced H.Con.Res. 99, a resolution calling on Congress to pass universal health care legislation by the end of 2004. Our resolution makes it clear that we must create universal health care to meet the needs of patients as well as caregivers and medical professionals.
United States Universal Health Service Act (U.S. UHSA)
I have reintroduced H.R. 3080, the United States Universal Health Service Act. This bill will specifically make high-quality preventive, acute and long term care available to everyone regardless of demographics, employment status, or previous health status. This health care service creates an entitlement to high-quality health care and supplemental services without charge and without discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, language, income, employment status, sexual orientation, or previous health status. It also stresses prevention and wellness.
The United States Universal Health Service Act presents a strong and visionary challenge to the present regime. This proposal challenges us as Americans to take another look at the fundamental role government will have to play if we are ever to achieve an equitable and rational health care system.
It's a shame that our nation is the only industrialized country that does not have a health insurance program for everyone. We should provide all individuals access to affordable health care in order to improve our quality of life and health.
People are growing more and more frustrated with an inadequate health care system that does not listen to the needs of our people. We have waited long enough and have allowed too many people to suffer. We must work together to pass a universal health care proposal that provides every individual access to comprehensive, affordable, and high-quality care.
Patients Bill of Rights
Why do we need a Patients Bill of Rights?
Providing patient protections to individuals is an important issue for Californians and all Americans. Patient protections can ensure that doctors can communicate freely with their patients without fear of retaliation by Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). Every individual should have the right to choose their own doctor and have access to clinical trials and specialists such as an OB/GYN or pediatrician. Patient protections hold health plans accountable when the plan makes a decision that harms or kills someone and helps to ensure that all external reviews of medical decisions are conducted by independent and qualified experts. I believe that passing a universal health care bill will address all these issues and much more, but passing a good Patients Bill of Rights proposal now would be a positive and necessary step in the right direction.
Action taken in Congress
We need a good Patients Bill of Rights because too many individuals have been harmed, denied care, and neglected by their HMOs. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2563, the "Patients Bill of Rights," by a vote of 226 to 203 on August 2, 2001. This was unfortunately a sham bill with few patient protections supported by the Republican leadership and White House.
H.R. 2563 originally included strong patient protections that would have ensured timely access to high-quality health care for the millions of Americans with private health insurance. This bill was a bipartisan effort to protect our patients; however, several punitive provisions were subsequently added that protected HMOs over individuals and severely weakened major protections in the Patients Bill of Rights.
The original Patients Bill of Rights, which I supported, would have given individuals more access to emergency medical services, to specialty care, to essential medication, to clinical trials, and direct access to pediatricians as well as Ob-Gyn care. This bill would have also protected the doctor-patient relationship by ensuring health professionals are free to provide information about a patient's medical treatment options.
The original Patients Bill of Rights addressed the importance of allowing patients to appeal their health plan's decision and hold HMOs accountable for their actions. This bill would have established an independent, speedy external review process for patients dissatisfied with the results of the internal review. H.R. 2563 as written would have allowed individuals the right to sue when a medical judgment resulted in injury or death.
Amendments that weakened the Patients Bill of Rights
Several negative amendments passed that weakened the Patients Bill of Rights greatly, rendering it almost useless. The first amendment that passed fully expanded medical savings accounts (MSAs), which only benefit wealthier and healthier people. This provision will directly increase health care costs for those who remain in traditional insurance and managed care plans.
The second and even more egregious amendment supported by the Republicans leadership permitted patients to sue in state courts but required that such suits would be conducted under federal laws and rules and capped the damages that could be awarded in state and federal courts. This amendment weakens enforcement provisions found within H.R. 2563, makes it nearly impossible to pursue cases in state court, and stacks the deck against patients who have been harmed by insurance companies.
Since these two poisonous amendments were attached to H.R. 2563, I could no longer support this bill because our patients would no longer be guaranteed true patient protections.
What's next in Congress for Patients Bill of Rights?
Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate must now convene to iron out the differences in the conference committee now that both chambers passed different versions of the Patients Bill of Rights. The Senate Patients Bill of Rights contains more protections for patients. If they are able to reach a compromise on the differences between the two bills, the new bill will them be sent to both chambers for another vote.
It is apparent that individuals throughout our nation have been growing more and more frustrated with an inadequate health care system that does not listen to the needs of our people. The original Patients Bill of Rights bill would have provided many protections that are essential to upholding our patients' rights. But unfortunately, the bill was completely stripped by the Republicans who want to protect HMO insurance groups over average Americans.
Debunking the Patients Bill of Rights myths - the Texas example
Opponents of Patients Bill of Rights have argued that this legislation would result in huge increases in health care costs and lawsuits. These were the same arguments used by the opponents of the Texas Patient Protection Act of 1997, which was the first state to pass a Patients Bill of Rights proposal. In the four years since Texas passed a patient protection bill, (without President and then-Governor Bush's support) none of these predictions have come true.
Texas citizens have preferred to seek redress of their grievances in the independent review system. From November 1997 through May 2001, there have been only 17 lawsuits against HMOs.
While opponents stated Texans would lose their insurance, the number of Texans enrolled in health insurance or HMO plans have steadily increased since the law went into effect. According to the Texas Department of Insurance, enrollment went from 2.9 million in 1996 before the law was enacted to 3.9 million at the end of 2000.
While there have been increases in the monthly premiums over the last four years, the average increase in monthly HMO premiums in Texas (8.1%) was still nearly half the average increase in insurance premiums for the nation (16.8%). The Texas Department of Insurance attributes those increases to the rising costs of prescription drugs and health care, rather than to the small number of independent reviews resulting from the Texas Patient Protection Act.
It's a shame that we could not pass a real Patients' Bill of Rights, and it's a shame that we are not addressing the problems facing the 44 million individuals without any kind of health care coverage. I believe we need to provide all individuals access to affordable health care in order to improve our overall quality of life and health. This Congress should support a real Patients' Bill of Rights and quality health care for everyone in this country. But unfortunately, this Congress is not poised to do either.