Guest Column Donald T. DiFrancesco State demonstrates once again it’s at forefront of health-care policy

Guest Column
Donald T.
State demonstrates once again it’s at forefront of health-care policy

While Congress continues to debate managed care reform and prescription drug coverage in Washington, here in New Jersey we are enacting bipartisan solutions right now. From being one of the first states to enact a patients’ bill of rights to the recently enacted Senior Gold discount prescription drug programs for seniors and the disabled, New Jersey has long been a national leader in health-care policy. On July 30, the state will [have] once again demonstrated why New Jersey is at the forefront of health care policy when I sign legislation giving patients the right to sue their health insurance companies.

This new law will provide consumers with the right to sue their health maintenance organizations (HMOs) if the insurer’s decision to deny or delay care results in serious harm. In those cases where the serious harm threshold has not been met, patients will first appeal the HMO’s care decision through the Independent Health Care Appeals Program and, if no resolution is met, will be able to file suit.

By utilizing the Independent Health Care Appeals Program, we will safeguard against frivolous lawsuits that could result in increased health care costs, while serving the clear purpose of protecting patients and their families. The legislation is aimed at increasing quality health practices — not lawsuits.

Quality health care should always be paramount in any decision made for patients. Once signed, this new law will do much to keep health care decisions where they belong — in the doctor’s office, not the corporate boardroom. Doctors should not be forced to practice medicine with hesitancy for fear their patients will be denied needed tests or treatment.

Right-to-sue legislation will be added to the many programs New Jersey has instituted in recent years to improve the state’s health care system. In addition to the patients’ bill of rights, KidCare and FamilyCare, the recently enacted Senior Gold program is providing discount prescription drugs to middle-income seniors and the disabled. Taken as a whole, these bills will truly empower New Jersey’s patients by providing greater accountability within the health care system, as well as improving access and affordability of services.

It is extremely satisfying for me, both as a legislator and acting governor, to have been able to shepherd this legislation from hearings I requested in the Senate Health Committee in February 2000. I commend my colleagues from both sides of the aisle, as well as advocates throughout the state for their support of this landmark legislation that makes patient care our bottom line.

The signing of this bill into law catapults New Jersey into the forefront of patient care nationwide. Here in New Jersey we are protecting patients’ rights today and every day.

Donald T. DiFrancesco is the acting governor of New Jersey