Rights Bill Inaction Spurs Bill To Act Without Congress

Health care issues generated political brinkmanship as the 106th Congress skidded toward Election Day — capped by President Clinton's declaration of a limited series of patient rights regulations following Congress's failure to pass a patient rights bill.

The Clinton administration ordered the Labor Department to prepare standards covering Americans who receive health benefits through their employers — and to have them ready just before Election Day, should the patient rights bill die. The new standards require health plans to make coverage decisions within 72 hours for urgent conditions, and to hear an appeal within another 72 hours if coverage is denied.

Republicans called the move a blatant attempt to bolster the candidacy of Vice President Al Gore, who could claim the administration acted on a popular issue while the Republican Congress sat on it. The administration said it had the authority under ERISA to issue the regulations.

Partisan bickering also erupted over the way Congress divided $28 billion in Balanced Budget Act relief funding to hospitals and health plans. About $12 billion is allocated to health plans to try to keep them from leaving Medicare, which prompted Nebraska Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey to accuse the GOP of “doing what Republicans accuse Democrats of doing — throwing money at a flawed system.”