The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday December 7th

Assembly Passes Patients' Bill of Rights

The bill's major provision gives patients the opportunity to sue health care service providers that deny them necessary medical coverage.

The legislation comes at a time when debate about a national Patients' Bill of Rights has been overshadowed by last month's terrorist attacks.

In a Tuesday press release Gov. Mike Easley praised the bill's passage. "I commend the legislature for moving forward on this important issue without waiting for Washington to act," he stated.

Easley is expected to sign the legislation within the next few days.

Easley, who avidly campaigned in favor of the bill, initiated the legislation with several other lawmakers in February.

Interest groups throughout the state were both satisfied and concerned with the bill's passage. "We think this is a major step forward in managed care health plans," said Steve Keene, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Medical Society.

Keene said the legislation will go a long way in addressing patients' ability to get necessary health care services.

"Patients have been frustrated by the health plan's interference in medical decision making but this legislation will allow doctors to work with their patients to obtain necessary medical care," he said.

Keene added that although the bill contained some compromises, he was pleased with the way provisions were laid out.

"One of the things this bill does is allow for an external review of disagreements between health plan providers and patients," he said. "It gives a patient the right to sue the health plan for medical harm caused by a decision that the health plan provider made in a negligent manner."

But other groups expressed concern about the bill's provisions "Although we are supportive of the majority of the bill we are still concerned with issues regarding cost," said Paul Mahoney, spokesman for the N.C. Health Plan Association.

Mahoney said a component of the bill making health care providers more liable for harm caused to patients would make insurance costs an even bigger problem for state residents. "We feel that the liability component will increase frivolous law suits by trial lawyers, thus increasing premium insurance bills for patients."

Mahoney also said there is also a concern over managed-care patients' assistance programs. "We would like to see these programs regulated by the Department of Insurance because it would be consistent with what we are already doing," he said. "The new legislation leaves this authority wide open with little interpretation of what agency should run these programs."

But Keene stressed the importance of the patient's right to compensation for medical harm done by poor health plan decisions. "This necessary right is allowed only in a handful of states and is a major step forward for the general health of North Carolina citizens."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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