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Patients' Rights vs. Politicians' Wrongs

June 22, 2001

With the recent change in the Senate leadership, patients' rights have once again become a hot topic in Washington. Senator Ted Kennedy (Dem.-MA) is pushing a so-called "patients' bill of rights." He strongly supports allowing patients to sue their HMOs for denying medically necessary care.

However, Senator Kennedy and others continue to overlook the root cause of the problem: Americans should not be coerced into joining HMOs in the first place. Instead, they should be free to pick and choose their own health-care plans and services without third-party interference.

We don't allow employers or government to pick and choose our automobile or homeowner's insurance. Why should we allow them to choose something as personal as our health plans? This standard has evolved from two federal policies, both decades old.

Federal Tax Law and HMO Act of 1973

Today's workers are effectively coerced into HMOs because of federal tax policy established in the 1940s. Currently, health insurance is excluded from taxation if employers purchase it, but individually purchased insurance is not. That means workers must accept the limited options (often HMOs) offered by employers or pay higher taxes.

Additionally, the HMO Act of 1973 required employers (with 25 or more employees) to offer HMOs to workers. Ironically, Senator Ted Kennedy -- who today wants to protect Americans from HMO abuse -- sponsored this legislation.

Time to Restore True Patients' Rights

What is the best way to restore true patients' rights? By reducing citizens' tax burden so they'll have more money to pay privately for the health services and insurance of their choice. It is well known that, "he who pays the piper calls the tune." Until individuals are the ones paying the bills and choosing their insurance, they won't have control over their health-care decisions. Elissa Meininger, co-founder of Health Freedom ACTION Network points out, "Whoever controls your medical and health care decisions controls you."

Correcting Politicians' Wrongs

President Bush's tax cut is a good start toward restoring health freedom. It allows citizens to keep more of their money, so they'll have more disposable income to pay for the health-care services of their choice.

Congress and President Bush also should consider repealing some of the major laws (tax laws, HMO laws, etc.) that have eroded patient choice over the past 60 years. Politicians have made claims about certain proposals (e.g., HMOs) that simply haven't proven to be correct. Instead of tinkering around with HMO legislation, Congress should consider truly restoring citizens' freedom of choice in health care, including:

  • Freedom to choose treatments without government (e.g., FDA) interference.
  • Freedom to contract privately with doctors and other health-care practitioners of one's choice (including signing contracts for informed consent for treatment and disclosure of medical information).
  • Freedom to maintain private patient-doctor (or other provider) relationships.
No legislation should be titled a "patients' bill of rights" without these three basic freedoms from government and third-party interference.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2001 issue of Health Freedom Watch, the bimonthly watchdog report published by the Institute for Health Freedom.

No legislation should be deemed a "patients' bill of rights" unless it guarantees the freedom to contract, the freedom to choose natural treatments without FDA interference, and the freedom to maintain confidential doctor-patient relationships.