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House Approves HMO Bill

October 7, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Capping a two-year struggle, the House approved a sweeping bill meant to give patients a stronger hand in dealing with their health insurance companies, including a controversial new right to file lawsuits.

The final vote, 275-151, came after intense lobbying on both sides, including President Clinton, who phoned lawmakers from Air Force One.

``It is time we asked the insurance industry to be responsible for its actions,″ said Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., who joined with Democrats to push the bill _ first to the House floor and then to passage.

Earlier today, the House rejected a GOP-backed patient protection bill that included new rights to sue, but only in federal court and only in limited circumstances. That vote was 238-193, with 29 Republicans joining all but two Democrats.

For two years, Democrats have put the GOP on the defensive over the politically popular HMO issue. Republican leaders, struggling with a slim majority and a fractured caucus, did not endorse any bill until debate opened on the issue this week.

But they worked fiercely in recent days to rally support for their version. Many Republicans reluctantly supported it in hopes of defeating the broader Democratic bill, and supporters painted it as a compromise between the Democratic approach and doing nothing.

``We’ve got a solid, balanced approach that I urge you to support,″ said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. ``The difference in these bills is how far you go. How far you give license to the trial lawyers.″

But Democrats argued that it did not go far enough.

``It fails to hold health care providers accountable. It lets them off the hook,″ said Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.

Now the House bill must be reconciled with a considerably more limited version already approved by the Senate. The Senate bill has no new rights to sue and excludes many Americans from other patient protections.

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