(CNSNews.com) - President Bush said Wednesday he is hopeful that Congress will pass a patients' bill of rights sometime soon, but he vowed not to sign any bill unless it guarantees fairness.
"I am hopeful we'll get a bill I can sign. And I appreciate so very much the hard work that's going on, particularly now in the House of Representatives, to bring a bill that is fair to patients," the president told reporters at the White House.
"There were a lot of negotiations going on when I was gone (in Europe) and there still seems to be a lot of talk. And, obviously, we'd like to get this bill finished and on my desk, and a bill I can sign," Bush said.
"I laid out the principles that would allow me to sign a bill, and I still stand by those principles. But I can report we're making pretty good progress, it seems like," he added.
A vote in the House on a patients' bill of rights could come sometime next week. However, House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts is doubtful that the House will take action sometime soon, because House members remain undecided.
"On the patient bill of rights, my advice would be, let's continue building the vote," Watts told a Capitol Hill news conference.
"The Speaker (House Speaker Dennis Hastert) is doing a good job in growing the vote and talking to people and getting them to see the wisdom of the Fletcher bill. We could see a vote on Friday, but don't be surprised if we don't get it up because of the August 3rd break," he said.
Rep. Ernest Fletcher's (R-Ky.) bill would guarantee that patients have access to quality health care and necessary remedies and hold HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) accountable for their decisions.
"Our bill offers access to health care for millions of uninsured Americans and ensures patients have the tools they need to receive immediate care," said Fletcher. "Alternative bills offer unlimited frivolous lawsuits without addressing how patients can gain access to health care in order to receive the quality health care they deserve."
Fletcher is calling his bill, "The Patients' Bill of Rights Act of 2001." It is designed to increase the quality of health care for all Americans.
Under the bill, small businesses will be better able to offer health insurance for their employees through Association Health Plans and expanded Medical Savings Accounts. These access provisions will better enable employers to provide health insurance to their employees.
Fletcher's bill would also include all of the patient protection provisions outlined by President George W. Bush. It ensures access to emergency room and specialty care, while providing direct access to obstetricians, gynecologists and pediatricians.
The bill also ensures patients have the right to choose their doctor with continuity of care protections that allow patients to continue seeing their doctor even if they are terminally ill, pregnant or awaiting critical surgery. The bill will provide access to clinical trials, needed prescription drugs and health plan information.
In addition to addressing the need for improving access to primary care, Fletcher's bill will allow patients to pursue legal remedies for injurious decisions. It allows for remedies in federal court when an HMO makes a coverage decision, and it allows medical decisions to be addressed in individual state courts.
"The best medicine for our patients is not unlimited frivolous lawsuits, but increasing and improving health care for all Americans," Fletcher said. "Opening up employers and unions to costly lawsuits will only raise the cost of insurance and threaten the health care we get through our jobs."
Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson is co-sponsoring Fletcher's bill.
House Republican Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said Tuesday he might delay bringing the issue to the House floor if the Fletcher bill does not have the votes.
Many doctors' and lawyers' interest groups are pushing for the Senate version of the patients' bill of rights, co-sponsored in the House by Reps. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa) and John Dingell (D-Mich.).
The two bills "differ sharply on lawsuits." The Ganske-Dingell bill makes it easier to sue insurers "that improperly deny treatment or provide substandard care resulting in serious injury or death." The Fletcher bill "tightly restricts lawsuits and directs most cases to federal courts."
Congress hopes to adjourn on August 3rd for their annual summer recess. They would return to work after Labor Day.