« Bush versus Science | Main | Inequality Kills You »

June 22, 2004

Bush Flip-Flops on Health Law

Back in 2000, Bush touted a 1997 Texas law, allowing consumers to sue HMOs, as a model for dealing with complaints about health care and HMOs kicking people out of hospitals before they were ready:

In a televised presidential debate on Oct. 17, 2000, candidate Bush said, "If I’m the president … people will be able to take their HMO insurance company to court," adding that while he was governor of Texas, "We’re one of the first states that said you can sue an HMO for denying you proper coverage."
Well, that same Texas law was challenged in court, with the insurance industry arguing the law was barred by the federal ERISA health benefits law. A lower court agreed.

You'd expect Bush to have lept to the defense of the law he proudly cited as a model, and expressed outrage at a lower court interfering with state power with the heavy hand of the federal government.

You'd be wrong:

the Bush administration argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that the same Texas law touted by candidate Bush is invalid because it is pre-empted by a federal law. This is the opposite of what then-Gov. Bush’s Texas Department of Insurance argued in a lower court in 1997.
This switch couldn't be because of this list of health care CEO Pioneers-- bundlers of $100,000 or more in contributions-- could it?:
  • UnitedHealth Group CEO William McGuire
  • former Health Net Chairman Dr. Malik Hasan
  • Anthem Inc. Chairman L. Ben Lytle
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida lobbyist Michael R. Hightower
  • WellCare’s CEO Todd S. Farha and finance director David Hart
  • AmeriGroup chairman and CEO Jeffrey L. McWaters

    Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed that the Texas law was preempted by ERISA.

    Bush essentially was touting an unconstitutional state law in 2000 in order to argue against a strong federal Patient Bill of Rights in the campaign, then once he knew he had killed that at the federal level, he jumped into court to kill the state law he had cynically promoted.

    And he dares to call Kerry a flip-flopper?

    What is needed is strong federal legislation to protect patients abused by HMOs, a fact that Justice Ginsberg, who supported yesterday's decision but argues that the law has inadvertently left patients without legal recourse:

    with greater enthusiasm. . . I also join "the rising judicial chorus urging that Congress and [this] Court revisit what is an unjust and increasingly tangled ERISA regime."

    Because the Court has coupled an encompassing interpretation of ERISA's preemptive force with a cramped construction of the "equitable relief" allowable under §502(a)(3), a "regulatory vacuum" exists: "[V]irtually all state law remedies are preempted but very few federal substitutes are provided."

    Which is just what Bush's HMO Pioneers want, but Bush should be challenged to pass a Patient Bill of Rights this year. Democrats should start attaching it to every piece of legislation that comes up for a vote, until Bush's hypocrisy is made crystal clear.

    Posted by Nathan at June 22, 2004 07:14 AM