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Bipartisan Panel To Examine Health Care They’ll Prepare For ‘98 Debate, Assess Need For More Rules

A bipartisan group of lawmakers formed a task force Monday to examine the quality of the U.S. health care system and help Congress decide whether to impose new requirements on managed care and other health plans.

Their move comes just days after President Clinton endorsed a presidential advisory panel’s call for a patient “bill of rights” to protect consumers against abuses by managed care plans.

The new Congressional Task Force on Health Care Quality will be led by Sens. John H. Chafee, R-R.I., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Reps. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., and Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.

Several health care bills are already being considered by Congress, including efforts to give patients and physicians more leverage in relationships with managed care plans.

Chafee played a key role in an unsuccessful effort by Senate moderates in 1994 to find a middle ground on health reform after Clinton’s massive plan to guarantee health insurance for all Americans went nowhere on Capitol Hill.

“We’re not here to champion a particular piece of legislation or advocate a particular approach,” said Chafee. “We’re here to educate ourselves.”

The task force plans to meet over the next few months with businesses, health care providers, insurers and health maintenance organizations to prepare for next year’s expected debate on health care quality.

Chafee and Lieberman said the task force has no set agenda. It could come up with recommendations, put forth its own legislation or endorse one of the many bills already pending or being drafted to regulate how managed care plans do business.

“This is going to be very controversial,” said Lieberman. “There are very strong, organized interests on all sides.”

So far, Congress has passed just one measure regulating managed care plans: requiring a 48-hour hospital stay for a woman after childbirth.

But since then, many others have been drafted, including a measure sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., to guarantee hospital stays for mastectomy patients.

“Managed care regulation will be an unavoidable and necessary issue for Congress to address during the next legislative session,” said Sen. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., a task force member who is working on a broad managed care consumer protection bill with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Jeffords chairs the committee that will consider the measure.

Others, including some Republican leaders in Congress, are concerned that lawmakers will overreach in trying to legislate medical care.

Rep. Bill Archer, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care financing, has said he is not eager to legislate the “bill of rights” endorsed by Clinton.

“Washington’s willingness to solve everyone’s problems has often led to unintended, costly consequences,” Archer, R-Texas, said last week.

Chafee said he told Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., that he was forming the task force but hasn’t gotten any response.

Meanwhile, such interest groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association already have pledged to oppose efforts to turn the bill of rights into legislation.


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