Democrats believe that patients' medical decisions should be made with their
doctors and nurses, and not by insurance company accountants and bureaucrats, so
they have been fighting to enact a strong enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights
since 1996. In June 2001, with unanimous support from Senate Democrats, the
bipartisan McCain-Edwards-Kennedy Patients' Bill of Rights was passed. It was
the first piece of legislation taken up by the Senate after Democrats took
control. The bill would guarantee access to health care specialists and
emergency rooms; provide access to a fair and unbiased external appeals process
and grant the right to sue when patients are unfairly denied coverage. In the
House of Representatives, Democrats voted to pass a strong patient protection
law, similar to the McCain-Edwards-Kennedy legislation, only to be blocked on a
party line vote by House Republicans.
President Bush opposes strong patient protection legislation and threatened to veto the Senate Patients' Bill of Rights. In August 2001, the House Republicans passed legislation written by the Bush White House that insurance industry executives admitted gives HMOs even more protections. The Bush-Norwood legislation favors insurance companies over patients in the external review process, creates stricter burdens for accountability, undermines a patient's ability to hold HMOs accountable and recover damages and negates legislation previously enacted in 41 states. Since 1999, Bush and the Republican Party have received more than $51 million in campaign donations from companies that oppose the Patients' Bill of Rights.