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Liability Closer; Work on Physician Bargaining Begins

A House-Senate conference committee expects to craft a compromise managed care reform bill by the end of this month. The sometimes contentious committee meetings have been punctuated by disagreement on liability.

In the end, the committee is expected to endorse a limited right to sue health plans — despite Chairman Don Nickles's ardent opposition to it. One scenario may allow suits in federal courts under certain circumstances, which would make damage awards more predictable than those filed in state courts.

Families USA warns that the House and Senate bills would lead to higher premiums and undermine the employer-based system of coverage. The establishment of so-called health marts would "fragment the risk pool" by enticing the healthier people into lower-cost plans, says Executive Director Ron Pollack.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee has begun work on California Rep. Tom Campbell's bill that would give physicians and other health care professionals collective bargaining rights. Opponents say the bill would boost premiums 10 percent.

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