It's time to pass a patients' rights bill with real...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

September 16, 1999

It's time to pass a patients' rights bill with real teeth

In a few weeks, Congress again will take up patients' rights legislation. This time, representatives have a chance to get it right -- if voters put their weight opposite the insurance industry's $100 million campaign to preserve the HMO protection package the U.S. Senate passed earlier this summer.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert has promised a vote on the issue later this month and a bipartisan package has emerged in the House of Representatives that offers real reforms.

Introduced by Rep. Charles Norwood, a Georgia Republican, and Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, this bill holds health plans accountable, guarantees patients timely appeal if care is delayed or denied and assures coverage for emergency room visits in situations a prudent layperson would consider an emergency.

Its protections would apply to everyone with private health insurance.

Most of these reforms are already Maryland law. But they aren't available to nearly half of Maryland's insured patients, because those people are covered by plans governed by federal law.

A recent poll of Maryland residents shows that health care is among the two issues about which they are most concerned -- only education ranks higher in importance ("Md. group pushes for health reform," Aug 13).

Nine out of ten respondents agreed that managed care companies are making health care decisions that should be made by doctors and their patients and more than one-third said their insurer had denied them care they felt they needed.

These figures demonstrate the scope of the problem and its political weight. There is no excuse for Maryland's House members not to co-sponsor this bill.

Physicians and their patients must unite and press for strong, effective patient protection legislation.

Dr. Wayne C. Spiggle, Baltimore

The writer is president of MedChi, the Maryland state medical society.

Testing is best defense against childhood AIDS

Although The Sun's article concerning the difficulty of taking new AIDS therapies ("New AIDS therapies prove burdensome for patients," Sept. 13) highlights an important problem, we were concerned about its statement that most children with HIV/AIDS "are the children of drug addicts" who "can't be trusted to make sure their kids swallow their pills."

This is a distortion of the facts and a gross oversimplification of the problem.

In an ongoing study of risk factors among HIV-positive pregnant women at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, less than half have a history of drug addiction. For the remainder, heterosexual transmission is the only risk factor.

As authors of the study the article described, we were horrified to find that so many families were having difficulty adhering to the medication regimen.

In response, we have developed a comprehensive program at the University of Maryland to address the burden of treating a child with HIV. Follow-up studies show that these efforts to help families are working: Rates of success and adherence to medication are improving.

Pediatric HIV is treatable and preventable. All pregnant women should take advantage of voluntary HIV testing, not just those with a history of addiction.

The tragedy of HIV transmission from mother to child can now be prevented in nearly all cases, but only if 100 percent of pregnant women are screened.

Dr. John Farley

Dr. Douglas C. Watson

Baltimore

The writers are professors of pediatrics at the University of Maryland's School of Medicine.

Maryland law guarantees extended drug coverage

As many people are demanding a greater voice in their health care decisions, I would like to point out a little-known law that gives Maryland residents extra clout.

Since 1997, state law has required health insurance companies (including HMOs) to pay for a 90-day supply of any drug used to treat a chronic condition.

This means that people with illnesses such as arthritis, asthma and high blood pressure can ask their doctors to write a 90-day prescription.

State law requires health insurers (including HMOs) to pay for the extended supply. While not all insurers have been cooperative, the Maryland insurance commissioner's office has been quick to support individuals denied coverage.

This law is a boon to people with ongoing medical problems, many of whom have a hard time making frequent trips to the drug store and end up skipping doses.

But the law is only effective if people are not aware of their rights.

Those denied this coverage should contact the Insurance Commissioner.

Ileane L. Platt, Baltimore

The writer is a board member of the Arthritis Foundation, Maryland chapter.

Police didn't overreact in Rodgers Forge standoff

I had to reply to the two letters, "Excessive force was used in Baltimore Co. shooting" (Sept 13).

What writer Thane Bellomo called the "little .22 caliber gun" that Tambra Eddinger was holding can fire a projectile more than a mile with enough force to penetrate a person.

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