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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 22, 2004

CONTACT: Jerry Flanagan - 310-392-0522 x319

President Bush and Congress Should Give-Up HMO Rights Too Until National 'Patients' Bill of Rights' is Enacted

In the wake of a decision yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate state patient rights laws for all except government officials and certain individuals, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights called on President Bush and members of Congress to give up their rights until new national standards are provided.

"With this decision, patients have become second-class citizens and the ruling class are given special privileges," said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). "President Bush and Congress should agree to give up their rights too until a new national law is enacted to give all patients the ability to hold their HMOs accountable when they are harmed."

The Supreme Court decision found that state laws allowing patients who receive health insurance from a private employer to sue in state courts if they are harmed when an HMO denies medical care are pre-empted by a federal law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The decision means that Americans who receive insurance from their employer must sue in federal court where an HMO found guilty must only pay the price of the original treatment. The ruling does not apply to government officials, church workers or those enrolled in public assistance programs who can sue HMOs under more protective state laws which allow patients to recover damages caused by treatment denials.

"Now there is no longer a legal deterrent to HMOs that cut costs and boost profits by denying medical care," said Jerry Flanagan. "It is the threat of legal liability that ensures that HMOs provide patients the care they need when they need it."

President Bush's support of the HMOs' case violates promises he made while campaigning for the presidency to protect state patient rights laws including a 1997 Texas law. Since the Texas law went into effect, 10 other states (California, Georgia, Washington, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, West Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Oregon) have passed similar legislation allowing patients the "right to sue" when they are harmed by a health insurer

According to federal filings, President Bush has received $2.6 million from insurers since 2002. Among Bush's campaign Pioneers (bundlers of $100,000 or more in contributions) are seven former or current HMO executives, including UnitedHealth, Group CEO William McGuire.

In a letter sent to President Bush yesterday, FTCR wrote:

"This gives the unmistakable impression that HMO money has bought your advocacy on behalf of HMOs and at the expense of patients. That's why you must act now on a HMO patients bill of rights that includes liability for HMOs. Show America the plan you promised during the campaign and ask Congress to pass it."

Since 2000, the Bush Administration has opposed several attempts at Patient Bill of Rights legislation in Congress even though at least 170 million Americans are enrolled in HMOs and other managed care organizations.

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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a non-profit and non-partisan consumer advocacy group. For more information, please visit us on the web at http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org