The chances of PARCA ’99–the patients bill of rights legislation allowing consumers to sue managed care and insurance companies for denial of treatment–passing in the new Congress grew dimmer in December with the selection of Dennis Hastert (R-IL) as the new speaker-designate of the House.
Still, Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA), a dentist and the chief sponsor of the ill-fated Patient Access to Responsible Care Act in the last Congress, plans to introduce the same legislation this month in an effort to fix the ERISA problem.
“Ninety percent of the battle would be over if Congress took care of the ERISA problem,” John Stone, Norwood’s press aide, said.
Stone said backers of the PARCA legislation were optimistic over the bill’s prospects this year when Republicans chose Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA) to be the next speaker.
But, when Livingston decided not seek the speakership and to resign in six months, PARCA lost one of its chief backers. Livingston was one of the 88 Republican co-sponsors of PARCA in the last session of Congress. In addition, PARCA backers were pleased that Rep. J. C. Watts of Oklahoma was elected the new Republican Conference Committee chairman. Watts, too, is a backer of Norwood’s legislation.
It was Hastert, however who chaired a working group appointed by former Speaker Newt Gingrich that gutted PARCA last year by removing language that would have fixed ERISA.
“Things are not as promising as they were a week ago,” Stone said. “It’s starting to look like managed care reform will be settled in the 2000 presidential race.”
House Majority leader Dick Armey of Texas is also an opponent of PARCA.
Norwood’s PARCA bill would amend the Employee Retirement Insurance Security Act (ERISA) to remove a loophole that protects self-insured companies from being subject to stricter state than federal laws and shield managed care firms from being sued for denial of care.
Stone noted that the addition of five new Democratic congressmen may help some if a bipartisan bill can be drafted and voted on.
He predicted that the House may have an opportunity to vote on both Republican and Democratic patients bill of rights legislation before a compromise bill–Norwood’s–is adopted. He said there is not enough support for either party’s legislation to pass with a sufficient margin that would allow the Senate to consider a patient bill of rights.
“Managed care reform needs 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster, but if the House sends over a bill that just passed by five or six votes, you can forget about PARCA this session,” Stone said.