BY SANDY THEIS
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS -- Hoping to tap into growing public anger over managed care, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lee Fisher proposed a new law that would give consumers more clout when battling insurance companies.
"It's time to put patients before profits," Mr. Fisher said at a news conference Thursday.
Modeled after a Patients' Bill of Rights being promoted by President Clinton, the Fisher plan calls for greater access to more doctors, the right to appeal an HMO's decision to deny care to an impartial tribunal, and freedom to sue HMOs if their decision to deny care harms a patient.
Linda Smrdel Kerns, a Columbus mother of four, joined Mr. Fisher at the event to tell of her battle with breast cancer and with the insurance firm that refused to pay for a bone marrow transplant her doctors said was medically necessary.
"I found myself spending more time fighting the insurance companies than being able to fight my disease," she said.
Ms. Kerns and her family are paying for the treatment, estimated to cost about $100,000.
Among the more controversial components of Mr. Fisher's plan is a provision that would make it easier for patients harmed by an HMO's decision to sue them for damages.
Insurance and small-business lobbies -- already reeling from similar legislation pending in Congress -- began fighting back last month with radio spots featuring "fat-cat" trial lawyers "laughing all the way to the bank" over the prospect of more lawsuits. The ads were broadcast in Ohio, Florida and Missouri, homes of congress members who serve on a GOP managed-care study group.
Mary Yost, spokeswoman for the Ohio Hospital Association, said her organization fears Mr. Fisher's plan, as well as the federal efforts, would increase insurance premiums and government regulation. Mr. Fisher conceded that premiums probably would rise but predicted any added costs would be spread throughout the system.
Bob Taft, the Republican candidate for governor, endorsed portions of the Fisher plan and said he agrees there is a need for a Patient Bill of Rights.
Alan Melamed, Mr. Fisher's campaign chairman, said he realized the appeal of the issue in December when he went to a theater to see the movie, As Good As It Gets.
When the character played by Helen Hunt blasted an HMO for its poor care of her sick son, the audience burst into applause.