Democratic Talk of Patients' Rights Called Political Ploy

By Cheryl K. Chumley | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - Democrats can advertise all they want, but most within the political realm know their efforts to pass a patients' bill of rights this Congressional session is an election year ploy, a spokesman for a Senate health committee said Thursday.

Members of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee expressed confidence during a hearing Thursday that their version of a patients' health care protection plan could be approved for presidential signature within the next two weeks.

"We lost on the last vote in the Senate," DPC Chairman Byron Dorgan said. "But there's been a change in the Senate" since Paul Coverdell's death (R-GA), and "his replacement [former Georgia Democratic Governor Zell Miller] will vote for the bill."

Miller's vote would result in a tie, Dorgan continued, leaving the fate of the bill with Vice President Al Gore, who has repeatedly endorsed the measure.

That will never happen, said Joe Karpinski, communications director for the Senate Health and Education Committee, calling the Democratic talks an obvious attempt to win voter support.

"We [Republicans] started conferences on the patients' bill of rights in the spring," Karpinski said. "By mid-summer, they [Democrats] had walked away from the table. They do not want it to pass. They want to make it a political issue, an election issue."

By keeping the issue fresh on the minds of voters, the Democrats see themselves as winners on two fronts, he said, referring to the public's concern with health care choice and to the trial lawyers' desire to settle medical controversies in court.

By contrast, the Republican Senate version of the patients' bill of rights would allow beneficiaries the ability to resolve medical problems with the providers or, ultimately, with an independent panel of advisors, Karpinski said. The GOP measure would also keep insurance price increases to a minimum - at four percent compared with 14 percent under the Democrats - and provide for speedy decisions regarding approved medical coverage in cases of emergency.

"Their bill is really focused on resolving issues through malpractice suits," Karpinski said, explaining why trial attorneys favor the measure. "If they don't pass it" this Congressional session, then the Democrats figure they will still win fiscal support "because [they] can come back and collect from the trial attorneys again next year."

Mark Pfeifle, deputy communications director for the Republican National Committee, also claimed the content of the DPC hearing was aimed more at appeasing constituents and providing for the interests of trial lawyers - major donors to the Democrats - than it was about realizing any medical reforms.

"If this bill was passed, the result would be a rash of junk lawsuits taking precious dollars out of our health care system and handing it over to ... the Democratic trial lawyers," Pfeifle said. "Millions of people would be thrown off the health care rolls."