What Happened To McCain’s Support of Patients’ Rights?

z4bw.jpg Once a strong supporter of patients’ rights, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) today is more worried about insurance companies than patients.

In 2001, McCain was in the middle of Washington’s biggest health debate in years. In drafting the Patients’ Bill of Rights (S. 1052), McCain’s fight though was with Republicans, not Democrats. The goal was to find ways to keep insurers under control and to stop some of the worse abuses of managed care.

McCain’s co-sponsors were none other than Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and John Edwards (D-NC). McCain even co-authored a Washington Post opinion piece with Edwards. Titled “Let’s See Some Bi-Partisanship,” the piece read in part:

For too long, some of us in Congress have struggled to come up with a way to create rights for patients who have disputes with health maintenance organizations…We all agree that patients deserve basic rights.

McCain was bucking his party. President Bush verbally threatened a veto early in 2001 and then issued a written veto during the summer. Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma, then part of the Senate Republican leadership, once warned, “Employers beware. There is language in this bill that can bankrupt you.” Patients’ rights became so difficult for Bush that the newly elected president quipped, “A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there’s no question about it.”

That was then. Today, McCain has learned to get along with his party and insurers. When asked recently plans that offer coverage guarantees at reasonable prices and consumer protections for individuals with preexisting conditions, McCain said, “That would be mandating what the free enterprise system does.”

Instead of regulating the insurers, McCain now wants to deregulate them. For example, his plan to allow insurance companies to sell products across state lines would weaken consumer protections. And while John Edwards called for a new and even stronger patients’ rights during his 2007 run for president, McCain’s position actually weakens patient protections. McCain’s plan to enroll everyone in high deductible health plans will create barriers to access for low-income persons.

In 2001, much was made of how Bush was trying to cut his former presidential rival out of the patients’ rights negotiation. Maybe McCain found solace for his 2000 presidential loss in knowing that patients’ rights debate was an embarrassment to his former rival? Whatever his motivation in the past, McCain has now embraced conservative orthodoxy.