September 3, 1998 - Issue: Vol. 144, No. 115 — Daily Edition105th Congress (1997 - 1998) - 2nd Session
CONSIDERATION OF THE PATIENTS' BILL OF RIGHTS
(Senate - September 03, 1998)
Text available as:
Formatting necessary for an accurate reading of this text may be shown by tags (e.g., <DELETED> or <BOLD>) or may be missing from this TXT display. For complete and accurate display of this text, see the PDF.
[Pages S9921-S9922] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] CONSIDERATION OF THE PATIENTS' BILL OF RIGHTS Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, just about an hour ago, we had the majority leader taking the floor and making the request that we go to the bankruptcy legislation, as is his authority, and then making a motion to move toward the bankruptcy bill and filing cloture. And I assume, as others would, that we will be debating this legislation next week. In an exchange with the majority leader, I questioned him as to why we were not considering taking up the HMO legislation, the Patients' Bill of Rights. We could either take up the legislation that had been introduced by the Republicans and lay that down as our leader, Senator Daschle, has suggested, or permit some other way or means that we could have a full debate and discussion on that legislation. As I pointed out in the very brief exchange with the majority leader, we are talking considering legislation that affects about 1.4 million bankruptcies, with all the importance and consequences that has, as expressed by our friends and colleagues from Iowa and from Illinois and stated eloquently by both of them in recent times, or whether we should be considering a measure that affects 165 million Americans with health insurance coverage. When I go home to Massachusetts and travel around the state, I hear from families wondering when the Congress is going to take action to make sure that health care decisions are going to be made by medical officials, by doctors and by nurses, rather than by accountants and insurance company personnel. That is what the people are talking about. That is what they were talking about during August. I asked the majority leader whether we would be able to have the opportunity to debate this issue. And as is the wont of the majority leader and the assistant majority leader, Senator Nickles, they have said, look, you are either going to take it or leave it with our proposal. You are either going to take it the way we want it--that is, you can offer two or three amendments, and we can offer two or three amendments --and, if you are willing to take that, we are willing to schedule it; otherwise, we are not. They are, for all intents and purposes, gagging the Senate. We do not have any such condition on the measure that is before us this afternoon, the bankruptcy bill. There are a number of very worthwhile, substantive amendments for this measure. The majority leader did not come out here and say take it or leave it on the bankruptcy bill. No, no. Why? Because the credit card industry and the banking industry have the votes to pass this legislation, and, as has been publicly recognized, they have expended some $50 million in order to support the movement of this legislation. Yet, we find out that there are children in our country today who are being denied a CAT scan because of an automobile accident or because of a bicycle accident or because of some other kind of an accident. They do not make large contributions to push forward legislation that will help them. Nor do the women who are denied access to clinical trials or obstetrical and gynecological care. And so, Mr. President, we are being effectively gagged by the Republican leadership in debating and discussing and voting on the most important health measure that we will be faced with this year. Again, when asked [[Page S9922]] when we can proceed to this important legislation, the majority leader, as is his wont, calls for regular order: We are not going to listen to any voices in the Senate that have been trying to get to this measure for over a year and a half, either a hearing or a markup in the appropriate committee. No, thumbs down. Scheduled on the floor of the Senate? Absolutely not, unless you take it our way. Now, Mr. President, you can--and the majority leader has been successful up to this time--avoid having the opportunity for such a debate and discussion, but I do not really understand the reasons why. Why are the Republicans objecting to debating the gag issue or about emergency room access? Why shouldn t patients who believe they are having an emergency based on a reasonable person's judgment be assured coverage at the nearest emergency room? Why shouldn't we be able to debate what would be the appropriate responsibility of HMOs on these issues? Why shouldn't we be able to debate whether you can keep your own doctor or whether you have access to specialists or whether you are able to have specialists for primary care, as many women, in particular, so need in our society today? And why not discuss the importance of access to clinical trials, or a right to timely appeals-- both internal and external--and health plan accountability? Why should the health insurance industry be the only industry that can cause death and disability and be excluded from accountability in the United States of America? Should we not have the opportunity to debate that issue and call the roll? Not according to the majority leader. No, no, not according to the majority leader. You either take it or leave it. Now, that has been the position effectively on HMOs, the position on campaign financing, the position on any increase in the minimum wage: Take ours or leave it. Now, he is entitled and has authority as the majority leader to make these decisions, but we also have prerogatives in this body, and we can exercise those prerogatives and, as Senator Daschle has indicated, will either do it in a regular way according to the rules of the Senate or we will have some other opportunity to do so. This body should not be gagged, as the majority leader is doing when he responds: You will take three amendments and that is it. It is very clear what the priorities are for the Republican leadership--protect the banks and the credit card companies--protect the insurance industry--protect their friends. All you have to do is look at who is going to benefit from the HMO reform and patients' rights and who is going to benefit from the bankruptcy legislation. Who is going to benefit from the bankruptcy legislation? The banks and the credit card companies that have been among the most profitable industries in this country in the last few years. Who benefits from Patients' Bill of Rights? Working families benefit from it. Children benefit from it. Senior citizens benefit from it. The average citizen in this country benefits from it. But, no, no, the Senate hasn't got time for that. Make no mistake. What was determined this afternoon by the leadership is that the Senate is favoring the banks and credit card companies and we are giving short shrift, short shrift to those who are dependent upon, in too many instances, the kinds of HMOs in this country that are not putting the medical decisions in the hands of doctors. Why is it that nearly 200 of the leading national medical associations, nursing organizations, patient coalitions, disability groups, mental health groups, religious organizations, small businesses and consumer groups support the Daschle bill? I have been in the Chamber when I have listened to the majority leader and my friend from Oklahoma, Senator Nickles, talk about their bill. We haven't heard of one single patients' organization that supports their bill. Every one of them supports the Daschle bill. So, when we say let us at least have the opportunity to debate it, we mean let's discuss each of the various elements. Let us have an opportunity to address those measures, with relevant amendments--they are right here. I would settle for amendments on the particular measures on this chart this afternoon, if I were asked, with time limits. But let's have accountability. Let's have accountability. Why is the Republican leadership saying to every doctor who is represented by those organizations, to every nurse, to every patient or survivor of every breast cancer group, ``No, we can't debate your proposal''? So we are going to work at it and we are going to keep at it, time in and time out. I know there are others who want to speak. How much time do I have? The PRESIDING OFFICER. The time of the Senator has just expired. Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I ask consent to have the same privilege as has been extended to the Senator from Iowa and the Senator from Illinois, to proceed for 4 more minutes. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Iowa spoke for 20 minutes. The Senator from Illinois spoke for 15 minutes. Mr. KENNEDY. I ask for 5 minutes. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator may ask for 5 minutes more. Without objection, it is so ordered. ____________________