An enforceable patients” bill of rights would protect against insurance companies that refuse to pay for necessary procedures, U.S. Rep. John Dingell told University Medical students yesterday.

Paul Wong
U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) talks to students yesterday at the Medical School about the Bipartisan Consensus Managed Care Improvement Act<br><br>JEFF HURVITZ/Daily

“The patient ought to be able to hold the insurer accountable,” he said.

Dingell (D-Dearborn) was invited to campus by the student section of the American Medical Society. He, along with Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.), is a co-sponsor of the so-called “Bipartisan Consensus Managed Care Improvement Act,” which Dingell said will allow for more accountability among health maintenance organizations.

Similar pieces of legislation were approved by the Senate and House of Representatives in 1999 but the bill died after no agreement could be reached in a conference committee designed to reconcile the two different versions.

Dingell blamed that circumstance on the Republican leadership of both houses of Congress, who he said engineered a process by which the bill could be defeated. He said he expects the bill to have a better chance this year.

“Quite frankly, the last conference was one of the most adroit practices of obfuscation I have ever dealt with and I hope that we can avoid that being repeated,” he said.

Dingell said he was “pleased to report that no one is harmed by this legislation,” explaining that doctors and employers who contract with health maintenance organizations will only be held liable if they themselves make a decision not to offer medical care to patients when it is necessary.

He outlined a two-step process in which patients can appeal refusals of care by their insurer.

“Only when the appeal process has been completed may a person then go to court and the court suit is on the basis of a of the internal administrative appeal and an external administrative appeal,” he said.

In order to alleviate fears that the legislation may allow for excessive awards in damage lawsuits, Dingell added that “those are hard lawsuits to win.”

In response to a question that asked how medical students can help get the legislation passed, Dingell replied, “Lean on your congressman. Let him know you want this.”

First-year Medical student Brian Alexander, a member of the AMA student section, said Dingell”s speech was for the purpose of awareness and only the beginning of a process.

“The AMA is trying to get together a grass-roots letter-writing organization to write letters to their congressmen or senators from their districts to lean on them, as Congressman Dingell said, to advance the legislation,” he said.

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