HEALTH CARE English advocates rights bill

Consumers would be able to sue their insurance carriers under terms of the proposal.
SHARON, Pa. -- U.S. Rep. Phil English of Erie, R-21st, said a patients' rights bill passed by the House of Representatives is a "common sense" approach to health-care reform.
Some managed-care companies may not be happy with the proposal but President Bush has said he will sign the House version and physicians are expected to support the legislation, English said.
A House-Senate conference committee will work on a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the legislation in September, he said, predicting the bill will become law this year.
English, speaking at a press conference at Sharon Regional Health System Tuesday, said he voted against a patients' rights bill last year because of the liability issue.
The congressman said employers who offer health-care insurance shouldn't be subjected to lawsuits if their insurance companies make an error.
However, health maintenance organizations should be subject to lawsuits by consumers, English said, adding that the final version of the new bill contains those provisions.
Flexibility: Giving consumers greater flexibility in directing their own health care doesn't come without a cost, he said, noting the General Accounting Office has estimated that insurance costs will rise by 3 percent as a result of the legislation.
That cost will be paid by those who buy health-care insurance, whether they be companies or individuals, English said.
The bill does offer a tax break for those buying their own insurance.
The cost of health-care insurance, only partially deductible now, will be fully deductible under this plan, he said.
The new law will also apply to Medicare recipients, English said.
Changes: Major provisions of the bill include:
* Allows consumers to sue their insurance provider in state or federal court for health insurer negligence but placing a $3 million cap on non-economic damages.
* Excludes employers from liability for insurance company decisions unless the employer directly denies care.
* Guarantees direct access to emergency room care, obstetricians, gynecologists and pediatricians.
* Ensures the right of consumers to pick their primary care physicians and allows patients to continue seeing their doctor even if he or she is outside the patient's health-care plan.
* Expands health care to the uninsured.
* Places the focus on treatment that is in the best interest of the patient rather than the cost to the insurer.
* Lifts a "gag rule" by prohibiting health plans from restricting physicians from giving advice to a patient about their health and what is best for them.
* Repeals all restrictions on medical savings accounts.

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