First, our original bill started with the premise that a health insurance company should be treated just like any other person or institution in the health profession. That is, if it makes a decision that results in harm to a patient, it should be held accountable for that action. The Norwood amendment creates a whole new category for H.M.O.'s. It gives them special protections that no other industry has — like new federal limits on damages in cases where a patient is hurt by the actions of an H.M.O.
Second, the amendment may pre-empt most state laws, so that already existing patients' rights laws in places like Texas, California and New Jersey could be rendered void. And in states where case law has been building in favor of patients' rights, the Norwood amendment would basically kill years of legal progress.
Third, the amendment calls for a legal device called “rebuttable presumption.” Few people could tell you what this means, but we've figured out that it increases the presumption of innocence for H.M.O.'s, making it harder for a plaintiff to prove liability.
Marion Berry, Democrat of Arkansas, is a member of the House of Representatives.