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  •   Texan Mauro Tries Democrats' Health Care Election Theme in Snipe At Bush

    Texas gubernatorial candidate Garry Mauro
    Garry Mauro, the Democratic nominee in the Texas gubernatorial race, talks about his education plan at a news conference. (AP)
    By Brian Carlson
    LEGI-SLATE News Service
    Tuesday, June 23, 1998

    WASHINGTON (June 22) — Facing an uphill battle against popular Texas Gov. George W. Bush, challenger Garry Mauro is trying out an emerging Democratic theme for the fall elections by portraying Bush as blocking health care reforms because he is beholden to insurance interests.

    "Governor Bush is out of touch with the concerns of ordinary citizens and in bed with the giant HMO's," Mauro said Monday during a press conference at the National Press Club.

    Mauro criticized Bush for his 1995 veto of the Patient Protection Act, which would have required state-regulated managed-care organizations to allow their customers to choose their own doctor. The legislation also would have mandated that such organizations cover cancer treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston, at that time the only facility in Texas certified by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Care Center.

    Mauro, who plans to attend fund-raising events this week with the President and First Lady, accused Bush of vetoing the bill to curry favor with his campaign contributors from the health care industry.

    "When I read his veto proclamation, what it tells me is that Governor Bush was influenced by the health care industry and the HMO's to veto a bill that had overwhelmingly bipartisan support," he said, adding that just one state senator and seven members of the Texas House of Representatives voted against the bill.

    At the time of the veto, Bush said the bill's requirements would be prohibitively expensive for managed-care programs. Bush's campaign office did not respond to a request for a reply to Mauro's accusations. However, a search of the governor's Internet site shows that he did allow another patients' rights measure to become law without his signature in 1997.

    At the time, Bush said in a statement issued by his office that he favored swift, independent reviews of HMO denials of treatment, instead of expanding patients' rights to sue their insurers. Bush said he had "concerns about opening the door to new tort actions" but decided, in the face of overwhelming support for the bill in the state legislature and strong support in the medical community, to let the bill become law without his signature rather than try to veto it.

    Mauro's criticism of Bush's health care record comes as Congress considers its own legislation to reform managed health care. Federal legislation is needed to regulate self-insured managed care plans offered by employers that cannot be regulated by states. Most large employer plans are exempt from state regulation, while many states have adopted standards for mandatory coverage and services for those plans that they can regulate.

    Under current federal law, patients in employers' self-insured plans may only sue for the cost of denied care, such as tests or medical procedures, but have no right to recover damages for injuries suffered because they were denied treatment.

    The Patient Access to Responsible Care Act, known as PARCA [H.R. 1415 , sponsored by Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., and cosponsored by 230 House members, would allow patients to sue their managed care plans for injuries resulting from denied coverage of essential health care. The bill would also allow managed-care customers to appeal when denied coverage for a particular treatment.

    Norwood has more than enough votes to guarantee passage of his bill but House GOP leaders have stalled action while a special task force seeks to develop a Republican bill that would be less onerous for the insurance industry.

    A Patient Bill of Rights bill [H.R. 3605], sponsored by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., would specify certain services, such as gynecology and mammography, which must be covered by a managed-care organizations. House Democratic leaders support this bill and they have accused Republicans of stalling on legislative action to appease industry interests.

    Even if Congress acts this year on a patients' rights bill, that won't neutralize health care reform as an issue in the Texas governor's race, Mauro said. He said he would still use Bush's veto to show the governor was on the record against reform.

    Mauro also criticized Bush on education, saying Bush had prevented a reduction in class sizes and an increase in teacher's pay. Bush has made education issues a top priority of his administration.

    He also said Bush had failed to end the state's mandatory early release program for felons, as promised in his 1994 campaign. He said the continued early release program allowed the release of Lawrence Russell Brewer, one of three men accused of chaining James Byrd Jr., to a pickup truck and dragging him to his death earlier this month in Jasper, Texas. Bush has denounced the incident as "barbaric" and has called for swift punishment of persons convicted of hate crimes.

    Disputing a poll that indicated he trailed Bush by 53 points, Mauro said his campaign's polls show him trailing but by a smaller margin: 28 percent to Bush's 63 percent. Despite Bush's popularity – which Mauro attributed to a ride on the coattails of his name and the "robust Clinton economy" – Mauro said his polling indicates he can narrow that gap by addressing health care issues.

    © Copyright 1998 LEGI-SLATE News Service

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