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If there ever was a case of a wolf masquerading in sheep's clothing, the Patient Access to Responsible Care Act is it.
The federal legislation's warm, fuzzy name not withstanding, the measure should be labeled for what it really is: income protection for organized medicine and other health care providers.
Consider one PARCA provision that says employers and other health care payers could not discriminate in "participation, reimbursement or indemnification" against a health professional certified under state law.
One obvious interpretation: Like it or not, if a provider has a state license, an employer's group health plan has to cover the services that provider offers -- be it a homeopath or a massage therapist -- regardless of added cost.
Take another provider protection provision: That provision says health care plans can't provide lower reimbursement rates for services delivered outside a managed care network compared to rates used in the network.
Some health care experts interpret that provision to mean plan enrollees who receive services outside a network cannot be assessed different deductibles or copayments compared to those who receive the same services in a network.
If that interpretation -- and in this vaguely worded bill it certainly is possible -- is correct, the implication is self-evident: Say goodbye to managed care arrangements, such as preferred provider organizations, as employees would lack the financial incentive to use network providers.
Then there is a provision that in a word can only be described as unworkable. It would require health plans to "systematically and continuously assess and improve" the health care status of every enrollee.
Just how would that be accomplished? How would employers know, for example, if their health care plans were improving employees' health when they don't know about the health of employees who joined a company years ago?
There are other provisions that would have disastrous financial consequences. The legislation would allow patients to sue employers if a provider in a company-contracted network made a mistake and injured a patient. That would be a virtually unmanageable risk for employers and one the plaintiffs bar would love to exploit.
To be sure, a revision of the bill introduced this month by Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., the chief PARCA sponsor, would perhaps make it somewhat harder -- but still by no means impossible -- for employees to sue employers for providers' malpractice.
Hard as it is to imagine, PARCA is co-sponsored by nearly half the House of Representatives. That level of support for a bill so potentially destructive to employers and the nation's health care system is frightening. That's what makes this bill far more dangerous than the Clinton administration's failed health care bill, whose provisions became well-known after a huge amount of publicity.
PARCA has received little publicity. That may explain why many legislators don't have the foggiest idea of what they signed on to and see the legislation incorrectly as a measure intended to curb managed care abuses.
It is up to employers to educate Congress on what PARCA is all about. An employer campaign helped to kill in 1994 -- deservedly so -- the Clinton administration health care legislation. Without a similar campaign, PARCA could well become law. Employers must see that that does not happen.