Speaking of a bill of rights, millions of beneficiaries in federal health care programs recently received one, courtesy of an executive order signed by President Clinton. The president's order establishes a set of minimum consumer protection standards, including direct access to medical specialists for patients with serious conditions; right of appeal to an outside panel for denial of coverage; and more complete disclosure by health plans, doctors and hospitals about their services and payment schemes. The order takes effect this September for people covered by military health programs, and in December 1999 for federal employees and Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
Clinton's order is the same plan he sent to Capitol Hill, following the recommendations made by a 34-member advisory panel last November. Is Clinton sending Congress a message? Says one of the president's senior health care advisers: "The idea here is that the federal government can lead by example. We can provide rights to people within the federal health system, and the private sector should take up these basic rights and responsibilities for other consumers."