By Toby Bilanow
March 21 (CBS HealthWatch)--Talk of healthcare reform, a top concern in the fall presidential election, returned to the battleground state of Florida today when President Bush outlined his plan for a law that would protect the doctor-patient relationship by means of a patients’ bill of rights.
Sounding confident and relaxed before a gathering at the American College of Cardiology in Orlando, Bush said, “I want to sign a patients’ bill of rights this year. But,” he added, “I will not sign a bad one.”
The President, who had supported such a measure during his campaign, declared that a patients’ bill of rights must cover everyone and guarantee all patients the following:
Access to care at the nearest emergency room.
The ability to see a specialist when you need one. For example, a woman must be able to see a gynecologist, he said, or take her children to a pediatrician without going through a gatekeeper.
Access to life-saving clinical trials.
The right to a fair and immediate review by an independent board for patients who may have been harmed.
The right to sue
your HMO, strongly opposed by the managed-care lobby, has always been a
controversial part of healthcare reform and has stalled efforts to pass
a patients’ bill of rights in the past. The president stressed the need
to offer a “meaningful remedy without frivolous lawsuits” and for “reasonable
caps on damage awards.”
The president said he would not support any of the patients’ rights measures currently in congress because they set that cap too high and will drive up the cost of medical care. “Excess and frivolous lawsuits harm everyone,” Bush said. Bipartisan measures currently floating through congress include one backed by Arizona Senator John McCain, a Bush rival during the Republican presidential campaign.
Speaking for about 20 minutes, the president broadly recapped healthcare issues in his recent budget proposals. These included a doubling of funding for Medicare over the next 10 years, affordable prescription drug coverage for seniors, increased funding for community and migrant health centers, and more dollars for medical research.
Echoing the anti-big-government themes of his campaign, Bush remarked that “a one fits all approach stifles innovation.” He also opposed any system that “treats doctors as if they have nothing better to do than fill out forms,” a comment that drew applause from the audience.
“Not a lot of surprises,” said Arthur Garson, Jr., MD, past president of the American College of Cardiology, about the president’s speech. The college supports the measures touched on by Bush. It also calls for a stepwise plan to ensure healthcare coverage for all by 2010.
Bush began his talk
with a joking reference to his vice president’s recent hospital visit for
heart troubles. “I thought of inviting Vice President Cheney to travel
with me today,” the president said. “He said he’s seen enough cardiologists
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