State Leadership Conference

Rep. Charlie Norwood (R­Ga.), the most prominent congressional proponent of patients' rights legislation, told the March State Leadership Conference (SLC) that this time around--and with the help of advocates like APA's members--"we're getting ready to win."

"What you do on the Hill is one of the miracles of America," said Norwood. "If folks from Mississippi and Alabama can come to D.C. and tell their Congress members 'we want you to do this,' they will listen to you, they must listen. They respect you."

Norwood made his remarks at the SLC's closing banquet, where APA's Russ Newman, PhD, JD, honored the congressman with the Outstanding Leadership Award, recognizing Norwood's unstinting efforts on behalf of patients and their right to quality health care.

Calling the congressman "a congressional champion," Newman said Norwood is a legislator who has "a willingness to go to any length to see that people get the services they need."

Norwood is perhaps best known for his sponsorship of the Bipartisan Consensus Managed Care Improvement Act in the last Congress. The bill called for HMOs to pay for emergency room treatment and surgery, and gave patients the right to go to court if they were harmed by inappropriate decisions by health-care plans.

The bill died in Senate last year, but Norwood believes a patients' rights bill will eventually be passed because, as he has said, "the American people want it to happen and they will get what they want. They always do."

This year, Norwood is praising a new patient-protections bill, the Patients' Protection Act of 2001, also known as the McCain-Edwards bill, introduced by Sens. John McCain (R­Ariz), Edward Kennedy (D­Mass.), Lincoln Chafee (R­R.I.), John Edwards (D­N.C.), and Bob Graham (D­Fla.), along with House Representatives Greg Ganske (R­Iowa) and John Dingell (D­Mich.).

A majority of Congress appears to support legislation and President Bush has voiced support for some of its provisions. "We think we have 54 confirmed votes in the Senate and another six or seven senators who prefer to remain quiet until they actually have to vote," Norwood said.

But, he predicted, there will be debate over whether to include caps on noneconomic and punitive damages to prevent runaway jury awards. President Bush has signaled his interest in seeing caps included in the final bill.

While Norwood is troubled by the idea of damage caps, he says, "the point is to get patients treated and we want to use a review panel of experts to determine whether the treatment was necessary--not some clerk in California. We will negotiate on caps for damages without any real loss on patient protection. Would I rather not? Sure. But we have to compromise to get patients' treatment to start with."

"I hope this is going to be the year this happens," he continued. "We will get there and the language APA supports is in the McCain-Edwards bill."

Norwood also had kind words for APA's government relations staff who have worked on patient-protection legislation. "These folks know what they're doing," said Norwood, "and they do it really, really well."