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QUICK VOTES POSSIBLE ON PATIENT BILLS

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WASHINGTON -- The full House and Senate could vote on health care patient protection legislation as soon as next week.

In the House, staffers are scrambling to put in legislative form a proposal earlier assembled by a Republican health care task force. That proposal, among other things, would require health care plans to set up new internal and external claim review mechanisms and require employers offering only traditional health maintenance organizations to provide a point-of-service option (BI, June 29).

In the Senate, Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., is working to complete a bill for quick action. A three-page list of Republican health care principles released last week by Sen. Nickles says legislation should ensure that patients receive a fair and expeditious appeals process and open communications with their physician about all treatment options. Other patient protection measures also could emerge next week as Republicans and Democrats try to find a common ground.

Benefit lobbyists say floor debate on the Republican proposals, as well as more expansive alternatives backed by congressional Democrats, could begin July 21.

Health care observers, though, worry that the frenzied pace at which legislators are trying to put together patient protection bills could lead to poorly drafted and ill-considered bills. Both Republican and Democrat congressional leaders are trying to get the measures considered by the full House and Senate without prior votes by committees with jurisdiction over health care legislation.

"This whole process is outrageous," said Charles Weller, an attorney in the Cleveland office of Baker & Hostetler.