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www.DukeEmployees.com - Duke Energy Employee Advocate

Legislation - Page Three

"Love your enemies — they may tell you the truth." - Jane Heap

The Patients' Bill of Rights
http://bernie.house.gov - Congressman Sanders - August 2, 2001

As a cosponsor of the original Ganske-Dingell-Norwood Patients - Bill of Rights, H.R. 536, I am extremely disappointed that the Republicans are watering down this legislation to make it more of an HMO protection bill than a patient protection bill.

In particular, by capping so-called - non-economic damages, - the Republicans create a system that values the lives of wealthy executives more than those of working people, the elderly or children. The wealthy would be able to recover much more in court against an HMO than the rest of us even though our injuries may be the same.

Secondly, the bill establishes special protections for HMOs by setting an extremely high legal standard for assessing punitive damages where HMOs have been involved in extremely egregious behavior. This will make it much more difficult for patients to prevail against HMOs even where the HMOs have intentionally denied them care.

Finally, they have cleverly changed the language of the bill so that it would be extremely difficult to hold HMOs liable even where their bad behavior is the cause of a person _ s injuries. This language change will push liability onto physicians whose hands are tied by the insurance companies. This is precisely one of the situations that the Patients - Bill of Rights was meant to remedy. That’s one of the reasons that the American Medical Association opposed the watered down Republican substitute.

I cannot and will not support a Patients - Bill of Rights that is little more than a sham that will do little for patients while protecting the abuses of the large insurance companies and HMOs.

Proposal a Consumer-Protection Fraud
Public Citizen - Press Release - August 2, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The national consumer group Public Citizen today criticized the Norwood amendment to the Ganske-Dingell Patients' Bill of Rights as a fraud because it continues to provide a legal shield to HMOs that deny medical care to their patients.

"The Norwood proposal is a consumer-protection fraud that looks much more like the weakened liability provisions of the Fletcher bill (H.R. 2315) than those of the original Ganske-Dingell-Norwood bill (H.R. 2563)," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "The result would be that HMOs continue to be subject to less accountability than any other person or business in the United States. We urge Congress to reject it."

Public Citizen released a detailed analysis of the Norwood proposal showing that it would:

  • Continue the federal preemption of state law known as ERISA, which will continue to make it very difficult for patients to effectively hold HMOs accountable for medical damages and denials of coverage. A number of states have strong patients' bill of rights laws that would be nullified.

  • Virtually ban recovery of punitive damages in federal or state court for the most egregious denials or delays of care. This would allow HMOs to systematically deny treatment unless and until a patient pursues appeals, which could be used to indefinitely delay recovery.

  • Cap punitive damages at $1.5 million in the few instances in which they would be allowed.

  • Cap state law damages for pain and suffering (injuries such as lost child-bearing ability, disfigurement and loss of sight) at $1.5 million. Perversely, these caps - like those for punitive damages - would not affect the less seriously injured but instead would harm the most severely injured. Caps limit an HMO's liability exposure, allowing HMOs to predict the consequences of denying care and accept them as a cost of doing business.

  • Ban class actions, which are needed to prevent HMO fraud. HMOs often make fraudulent statements to consumers about coverage issues. Eliminating class actions would encourage more of fraudulent actions by HMOs.

  • Give HMOs the opportunity to choose between state and federal court as the forum in which to defend themselves.

White House Has Smoke and Mirrors Galore
Public Citizen - Press Release - July 26, 2001

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration's Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has declined to provide information documenting the administration's repeated assertion that the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization have increased U.S. household income by $1,300 to $2,000 annually.

The USTR has repeatedly offered the dollar figure during its campaign to promote Fast Track but has failed to provide documentation pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request for "substantiation of the USTR figure." The failure of the USTR to offer the underlying documentation for the alleged economic benefits of trade to American families - requested by Public Citizen under FOIA on June 13 - comes as the administration continues to press for Congress to consider its Fast Track proposal (now dubbed Trade Promotion Authority) before the August congressional recess.

"In the height of the Fast Track fight, the administration's unwillingness to substantiate its implausible claim leads to only one conclusion: They're using fuzzy math to promote their trade agenda," said Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach. "There's nothing like a campaign to push an unpopular trade policy to make trade officials get creative with numbers."

The refusal to comply to the FOIA inquiry is particularly troubling because the requested information contains no proprietary, confidential or sensitive national security material. Without revealing the underlying economic assumptions, it is impossible for the American public to assess the legitimacy of the administration's claims of $1,300 to $2,000 income gains. For example, the USTR could have generated the number merely by dividing the increase in gross national product since 1994 by the number of American households and incorrectly assumed any benefits of free trade were shared equally by the entire population. Or, the USTR could be basing the number on the aggregate tariff reductions (which are not expected to go into full effect until 2008) divided by the number of American households.

Shaky National Prescription Drug Plan
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - http://dukeemployees.com - July 22, 2001

The Senate is trying to craft a prescription drug benefit for the elderly, but is running into problems. The effort is not meeting the expectations of the elderly, according to experts, reports The New York Times.

The problems are the usual ones: The premiums are too high, and the benefits are too low.

One plan was to cost $53 per month and only cover half of the drug costs until $3,500 had been spent. Many of the people, who need it the most, do not have an extra $53 per month to spend for the coverage. Some retirees are already paying $50 a month for Medicare to cover doctors’ charges.

Duke Energy, and other companies, are cutting off promised medical coverage, leaving only Medicare for the retirees. Medicare is a lot like Social Security; it was only designed to be a little better than nothing. It was never intended to cover all heath expenses. Medicare usually only covers drugs administered in a hospital. If you are on Medicare, and you get sick, you will likely need cash from somewhere. You could use your pension check to cover it. But there is a problem with that approach. Duke Energy has severely cut back promised pension benefits for many employees. Retirees that get a pitifully small lump-sum pension settlement are apt to run out of money before they die. With no pension resources, and no medical coverage, other than Medicare, many Duke retirees are going to face real problems. Many employees who have worked 30 or 40 years, under the promise of lifetime medical benefits and a decent pension, will be reduced to pauper status. Many will die because they cannot afford treatment.

Duke Energy’s excuse for terminating health coverage at age 65 was: “Medicare will cover you.” Will they cut out the pensions entirely next time? And then say: “Social Security will cover you.” Everyone knows that Social Security is held together with chewing gum and bailing wire.

The tax cut was not supposed to jeopardize Medicare or Social Security. Well, a presidential commission has already admitted that Social Security is falling apart! Senator Tom Daschle said: "We're working under very tight constraints. One of the biggest, of course, has been dictated as a result of the passage of the Bush tax bill. They wanted to pass a tax bill in large measure because they wanted to constrain domestic commitments and investments. This is a perfect example of it."

Medicare Recipients "Victimized" by Insurers

Soft Money Vote May be Forced in House
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - http://dukeemployees.com - July 21, 2001

Crusaders for a ban on soft money in Congress have not been able to get the Shays-Meehan bill to the House floor for a vote. The New York Times reports that an effort is underway to get the 218 signatures needed to force a vote on the bill.

The same scenario was played out in 1998. The Shays-Meehan bill was forced to the floor for a vote, and it passed. But the bill did not pass in the Senate. This time a similar bill has already passed in the Senate.

Soft Money Ban Update
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - July 14, 2001

The Article below discusses two bills to ban soft money in Congress. The McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill was passed by the Senate.

The Shays-Meehan bill is similar to the Senate bill. The House has twice passed the Shays-Meehan bill before by an overwhelmingly majority.

The Shays-Meehan bill actually imposes stricter limits on soft money political donations that the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill. If the House bill is passed, it will go back to the Senate to resolve the differences.

The AARP has this to say about the legislation: “By ridding our system of soft money, the Shays-Meehan bill would put democracy back into the hands of the people, where it belongs.”

If you call your congressman’s staff to support a ban on soft money, ask them to work to get the bill back on the floor for a vote. You can refer to the Shays-Meehan bill, the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill, or just tell them that you support any legislation that would ban soft money in Congress; they will know what you are talking about.

Soft Money Bill is Still Alive
TomPain.com - by Steve Rosenfeld - July 13, 2001

Trevor Potter was appointed to the Federal Election Commission by George H. W. Bush. He is now an elections lawyer in Washington, D.C.

Steven Rosenfeld: There was a lot of political finger-pointing and heated exchange during the first day of House debate on its version of the Senate-passed McCain-Feingold bill. So how seriously is this bill in jeopardy?

Trevor Potter: Well, it's even worse than finger-pointing -- what's happened tonight is that the House Republican leadership has announced it's taking its marbles and going home.

What happened today [Thursday, July 12] was that the House of Representatives defeated a vote on what is called 'the rule,' which is the map by which the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform measure would have been voted on. To give you a little background, last night the Rules Committee announced that the ground rules for today's debate would be that Shays-Meehan would be cut up into thirteen different pieces, so there would be votes on a number of different aspects of it. And the goal of that decision was to try to kill the bill, because it's one of those bills where there a lot of compromises in it and the whole hangs together, but if you start voting on individual pieces you will lose people.

SR: Certainly. You've been a member, and obviously chairman of the Federal Elections Commission before. You've certainly heard all the pros and cons of the case for reform. And you've also seen all the tactical moves that lawmakers have used in the past to block reform debate. Is there anything that strikes you as different this time around, with how the House is dealing with the bill?

TP: I think this is about as desperate as I have seen the House leadership. They decided to take a loss on the House floor as a way of preventing the bill from being considered today. I think they would only do that if they thought the supporters of the bill had enough votes to pass it. So what they've done is decided rather than take a loss on the bill today, they will simply put that off. They will force the supporters of reform to come up with another way to get it back to the House floor. They will have hoped that between now and then they can put more pressure on supporters to peel away a few votes. So what we saw today was, I think, a pretty dramatic example of just how hard the House leadership is trying to prevent this bill from passing.

SR: Where do you think things go from here, because it's so interesting that the House leadership itself is, in a sense, retreating, as you say. But at the same time it's been years before a bill -- and this is a compromise bill, actually, in many respects -- has even been able to get near the floor.

TP: I think what's happened here is that the Republican Party leadership, the House leadership and the White House realizes that if it passes in the House, it probably will pass. The same bill will go back and be passed in the Senate again, and you'll have something for the president to sign or veto, and it's pretty clear the president doesn't want to veto this.

So the real barrier here is the House. And the leadership today has thrown everything they could at this bill. They've threatened people apparently with lack of future advancement if they were Republicans and they don't support the leadership on this. There has been a lot of heavy lobbying. And I think the leadership decided they weren't going to win today, so they better sink the whole thing for the moment.

SR: And that's about as much as you can say on it right now?

TP: That's correct. We're going to know over the weekend what the next plan is. Obviously the supporters of reform will begin to figure out how to bring this up next week or the week after. I expect we'll see what's called a discharge petition, which is when a majority of the House signs a petition to get the bill back to the floor. If that happens, the leadership has to bring it back to the floor. But again, that buys the leadership a couple of weeks, which I think at this stage, they're happy to have.

SR: Can you put this into some kind of historical context or perspective? In the sense that you have watched these debates up close, from literally ring-side seat for many years. Do you think we're on the verge of actually seeing a major reform bill pass? It's just a matter of time?

TP: I think we are. I think that's why this is such a frantic day, that we are very close to a major reform bill. We are much closer then we have been in the past years.

In the past, there's always been a dynamic where Congress is going to pass it, but everybody knew the president would veto it. Or the House would pass it, because they knew that a filibuster would kill it in the Senate. We're now in a position where the Senate has already passed it once. It looks as if the House has the votes to pass it. And you have a president who doesn't want to veto it. So we're much closer. That's why the opponents, I think, are more desperate.

Senator John McCain Fights Against Soft Money
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - July 10, 2001

We support no political party. We do support good lawmakers, who work for the good of the public; party affiliation is immaterial. One outstanding lawmaker is Republican Senator John McCain, of Arizona. He has consistently worked for the benefit of the American public. When one is aiding the public, he is supporting the work force by default.

One should never fall into the hero worship mode, as no man is infallible. Strive to support the man’s ideas, rather than the man. But still, a line can be drawn through Congress. On one side would be those who consistently vote in the interest of the public. On the other side would be those who vote in the interest of their bank accounts. The sides are not evenly balanced! That is why we must recognize and encourage those who are doing the right thing in Congress.

The New York Times reports that Senator McCain is vigorously promoting The McCain-Feingold legislation, which would outlaw unlimited, unregulated soft money donations. This is good legislation. The more soft money influences politicians, the more your vote is watered down!

Some of his fellow Republicans, on the House side of Congress, object to his strong endorsement of the bill and are accusing him of bulling them! If this is the case, we could use a hundred more “bullies” such as Senator McCain. It is high time the public had someone to enthusiastically fight for them!

The debate will begin in the House this week. If you support a ban on soft money, tell your congressman that you support The McCain-Feingold legislation. This is an important battle. Do not lose it by default.

Senate Passes Patients' Bill of Rights
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - June 30, 2001

Reuters reports that the Senate passed the Patients’ Bill of Rights by 59 to 36, defying Bush's veto threat. Thanks to all who contacted their senators in favor of this bill.

The health care organizations are crying and poor-mouthing, but don’t let them fool you. Earlier Reuters reported that the industry's highest paid executive, William McGuire, UnitedHealth Group CEO, earned $54.1 million last year. His unexercised stock options are worth $357.9 million! Those raking in this kind of money, do not mind denying your spouse or child coverage for life saving medical treatment!

The bill is by no means law yet, and will now go to the House of Representatives. If you would like to see this bill become law, it is now time to write and call your congressman. There is a lot of money opposing this legislation; each letter and call is important.

Governor Bob Wise on Patients' Bill of Rights
Governor Bob Wise - Weekly Radio Address - June 30, 2001

Good morning, this is Governor Bob Wise of West Virginia.

In the nation's capitol, the United States Senate is engaged in a vigorous and important debate about whether to pass a meaningful Patients' Bill of Rights. The outcome of this debate will have a profound effect on American families.

Those of us who support a real Patients' Bill of Rights are advancing a very simple proposition - if you have health insurance, you should also have rights.

We believe that doctors, not insurance company bureaucrats, should help you make medical decisions.

We believe that you should have the right to see a specialist. The right to go to the nearest emergency room; the right for your child to have a pediatrician as their primary care physician; the right for a woman to see her OB-GYN without a referral, the right to keep the same doctor throughout a medical treatment, and the right to a fair, independent appeals process when your HMO denies care.

If all else fails, we believe that you should have the right to hold your health plan accountable. After all, if HMO's are making basic medical decisions, they should be held accountable just like every other American business.

To be honest, for those of us outside of Washington, this debate seems absolutely unreal. Here is an issue that has broad, bipartisan support both in and out of Congress.

When I served, last year, in the United States Congress, I was joined by 68 Republican members in voting to pass the Norwood-Dingell Bill, which provided patients with real protections and held HMOs accountable. And according to a recent poll, 90 percent of Americans - and 87 percent of Republicans - support a patients' bill of rights. Why then are some Republicans working overtime to defeat the Democrats' effort to pass a real patients' bill of rights?

Well, in Washington, where you stand often depends on whom you stand with. On every issue that matters to patients, opponents of a real Patients' Bill of Rights are very clearly standing with the HMO's. Given the bipartisan support for the McCain-Edwards bill, our opponents have resorted to outlandish scare tactics.

When I became Governor this year, West Virginia had a so-called patients' bill of rights law. But it was weak, and did not really grant West Virginians many rights. It didn't hold HMO's accountable for their actions. So, this year, with broad support from the voters and the Legislature, we enacted a real state Patients' Bill of Rights.

Now, if you are an HMO patient in West Virginia you have a right to a fast, impartial grievance procedure for disputes. You have a right to independent reviews of coverage denials. And you have a right to sue an HMO for negligence that causes harm to you or your family.

The experience of states with similar laws - including Texas and California - proves that you can hold HMO's accountable without premiums skyrocketing, court dockets being filled up, or people losing their health coverage. It proves that these are nothing more than scare tactics.

Our bill was a landmark piece of state legislation. But the majority of West Virginians, whose insurance is governed by Federal law, are denied these critical rights and protections. Despite what some critics are saying, the McCain-Edwards bill being debated in Congress would strengthen, not weaken, the laws that have already been passed by states like West Virginia.

We've passed a real patient's bill of rights this year in my state; now it's time to pass one for all of the United States.

The only way to ensure that all patients in West Virginia and America have the same protections is to take advantage of this unique opportunity and pass the real Patients' Bill of Rights before the Senate.

Genetic Abuse Can Destroy You Financially!
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - June 22, 2001

Genetic testing can destroy you financially – if your insurance company uses the information to deny you coverage or raise your rates astronomically. Let’s face it; keeping the information out of their hands would be almost impossible.

Some people are afraid to have genetic testing, because of this very occurrence. Insurance companies are already attempting to control what treatment you are allowed to have. But you have a chance to act in your own defense:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has issued a press release about the "Genetic Nondiscrimination in Health Insurance and Employment Act" (HR 606/S 318). Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) introduced this legislation to prevent such genetic discrimination.

The bill would also stop genetic abuse by employers. “The legislation would prohibit insurers from restricting enrollment or adjusting fees on the basis of genetic information, prohibit genetic discrimination in all areas of employment and forbid insurers and employers from requiring genetic testing.”

Do not underestimate how important this bill could be to you and your family. It is certainly worth a call or letter to your congressman and senators. We may have a chance to nip this abuse in the bud. Once it gets out of control, it will be just like cash balance plans and HMO abuse.

You can send a free FAX to Washington from the ACLU website:

ACLU Free Genetic FAX

Patients' Rights Lobbying War
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - June 21, 2001

As the Senate debate began on the Bipartisan Patient Protection Act, The New York Times referred to it as a “lobbying war.” It was also referred to as “a brutal political war among health insurers, doctors, trial lawyers, consumer groups and employers.”

If you have health insurance, you have an interest in the outcome of this debate. Health insurance is the sister issue of pensions. It is just as important as the pension issue, if not more so! A pension does a dead person no good. Without adequate health care, you could be checking out a lot sooner than necessary. The insurance industry would like to dictate the amount of health care you receive, based on cost. Be aware that death is often much cheaper than treatment.

The decision about the type of treatment that you receive should be between you and your doctor. The insurance company has only one purpose in life – to write a check. Many Americans are being hit with a double whammy – a reduced pension and skimpy medical insurance.

The insurance industry would rather spend money on lobbyist than on paying claims. “‘We view this as a permanent campaign,’ said Mark Merritt, a political consultant hired by the American Association of Health Plans in 1997 to oversee it. His group alone budgeted $3 million to $5 million this year, he said, for television advertising, Internet ‘broadcasts’ for doctors and other efforts to make its case. But Mr. Merritt added, ‘We'll spend whatever it takes.’"

The insurance industry is prepared to “spend whatever it takes” to deny you decent health coverage. This is no time to be silent. Call or write your senators. Ask the to support the Bipartisan Patient Protection Act.

Support the Patients' Bill of Rights
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - June 19, 2001

Senator John Edwards (D-NC) said that debates on the Bipartisan Patient Protection Act will begin today in the Senate. He and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced this vital legislation.

It is important that this legislation was introduced by senators from both parties. The fact remains that some senators will refuse to vote for anything that was introduced by a member of the other party. Sadly, for many senators, the interests of the American public comes second to the joy of playing partisan politics.

“Our bipartisan bill gives you the power to enforce your rights when you've been wronged by an HMO or insurance company without encouraging frivolous law suits,” says Senator Edwards.

If you have read any of the many medical insurance horror stories over the past several years, then you know that this bill is desperately needed. When you or a family member is denied coverage for life-saving treatment, it will be a tad too late to write Congress. The time is now!

If you support this bill, be sure to write or call your senators and let them know.

Congressman Sanders - Press Release - May 2, 2001

WASHINGTON - Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) today offered an amendment which gained 153 votes that would have protected workers such as those at IBM from the detrimental effects of cash balance pension conversions. The amendment would have specifically mandated that companies that convert to a cash balance pension system give their workers a choice to remain in the traditional pension that they were originally promised. Sanders ended up voting against the final bill because it did not include the cash balance amendment and because it was skewed to benefit mostly upper income individuals.

Sanders said, "Millions of American workers, including IBM employees in Vermont, have seen reductions in the pensions that were promised to them as companies have converted from defined benefit plans to cash balance plans. It is incomprehensible to me that a major piece of legislation dealing with 'pension reform' could ignore this issue. It seems to me that if companies make a promise to workers regarding the kind of pensions they will receive, companies should have to live up to that agreement, and that is what I have been trying to do with my own legislation and amendments that I offered. Unfortunately, that type of worker protection was not included in this legislation because of opposition from corporate America."

Sanders also expressed disappointment that the legislation was more skewed to the needs of upper income individuals than the average America.

Sanders said, "Under this bill, the 20 percent of individuals with the highest incomes would receive more than 96% of the new pension tax breaks, while the bottom 60% of income earners would receive less than 1%. We can and must do better than that."

Legislation - Page 2