March 3, 2000

March 3, 2000 | News Releases on Health Care

"Patients' Rights" Bill Will Unleash Massive Federal Health Regulations, Study Says

WASHINGTON, MARCH 3, 2000-If Congress enacts a "Patients' Bill of Rights," it will make the problems of the health-care system worse and hurt most Americans, says a Heritage Foundation study released today.

According to John Hoff, a health-care attorney who wrote the study for the prominent Washington think tank, the legislation would impose detailed regulation by the federal government on health-care plans and the delivery of health care. This would "strengthen the naïve notion that the health-care system can be managed by government," he says.

In addition, the version of the legislation passed by the House of Representatives would spawn new and expensive types of litigation, permitting states to treat disputes between health plans and their members like malpractice lawsuits, Hoff says.

He says the House bill would raise the cost of insurance, expose employers who provide health benefits to new risks of expensive litigation, cause many employers to drop coverage, and consequently increase the number of Americans who do not have health insurance. "Tellingly," Hoff points out, "Congress has thus far opted not to apply the legislation to federal workers and beneficiaries of federal government health programs."

"Those who most need help in obtaining insurance are likely to be hurt first and hardest," Hoff says. One study cited in his paper concludes that the "Patients' Bill of Rights" would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 15.4 million.

In a related Heritage study, also released today, Policy Analyst James R. Frogue says it's too early to tell if a Texas law that expanded liability for health-care providers will fuel lawsuits and cost increases.

Supporters of the congressional "Patients' Bill of Rights" cite the lack of lawsuits under the Texas law as proof that such measures are relatively harmless. But the 1997 Texas Health Care Liability Act was tied up in state and federal courts until March of last year. Since that time, between seven and 10 lawsuits have been filed, but not one has gone to jury yet.

"Only after judgments come down and damages are awarded will the effects of this new law be felt," Frogue says.

Hoff and Frogue agree that a better way to give patients added clout when dealing with their health-care providers is to enable them to select and own their own health-care plans. The current employer-based health system forces Americans to accept the health plan their company picks for them. Under a consumer-choice model, Americans could leave one health plan and join another, based on what suits their individual needs.

"Supporters of the 'Patients' Bill of Rights' want Americans to be able to sue their health plans," Frogue says. "We want Americans to be able to fire them."

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