Seeking to exploit Republican defections, President Clinton pressed GOP leaders yesterday to allow a House vote on legislation guaranteeing protections for managed-care patients before next weekend's summer recess.
Clinton noted that some GOP House members, led by lawmakers who are also medical doctors, have joined Democrats to urge support for a "patients' bill of rights" for Americans whose health care plans are through health maintenance organizations.
"This is very good news indeed," he said in his weekly radio address. "It means there is a bipartisan consensus emerging behind a bill that would give all Americans the health protections they need. This bill should be debated and voted on this coming week, before Congress adjourns for the summer. If that happens, I believe the bill would pass."
"If the House is brave enough to protect the American people over the intense lobbying of the health insurance companies, the Republican leadership shouldn't stand in their way," the president said.
Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said House committees are working on a compromise, but "there are still some key issues to resolve." The aim, he said, is to craft a bill that holds HMOs accountable and enables doctors to pursue the best medical treatment without permitting lawsuits.
"What the Clinton-Gore administration and the Democrats in Congress want is an issue for the 2000 election," Watts said. "Frankly, it takes longer to write a law than a campaign document."
The Senate has passed a bill that is weaker than the legislation the Clinton administration proposes and that almost all Capitol Hill Democrats support.
House GOP leaders had planned to bring a similar bill to the floor last week, but action was derailed when some Republican House members announced support for the Democratic version.
Republican leaders contend that the broader Democratic plans would be too expensive.
They advocate giving patients new rights of appeal but no right to sue if an HMO denies care or treatment. The GOP legislation also would give doctors some new power without removing HMOs' right to determine what care is medically necessary.
In a separate radio address taped for broadcast to farm states, Clinton said current law shortchanges American farmers when times are tough, and Congress should act to "fix the underlying problem" rather than deal with crises as they happen.
Although much of the farm economy is healthy, many farmers, especially grain producers, face low prices. Clinton said he has done what he can, including buying more food for humanitarian aid, accelerating farm program payments and providing $6 billion in emergency aid last year.
But what is needed, he said, is authority to augment incomes of hurting farmers in bad years, improve crop insurance and make it easier to obtain and expand markets abroad and police market practices at home.