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What would you do if your insurance company dropped you when you needed it the most? How would you help your parents if they lost their insurance coverage as they underwent a devastating, expensive illness? What could you do if the insurance company ignored its stated coverage and capriciously dropped you? Think you could sue? You're wrong. Sadly, Pennsylvania may return Rick Santorum, an opponent of the right to sue insurance companies, to the U.S. Senate. On July 15, 1999, the Senate voted 53-47 to approve the Gregg Amendment, which decimated access to the legal system for people injured by their insurance companies. Later, it passed a patient's bill of rights -- but without the right to sue an insurance plan. Yet a patient's right to sue is critical to stripping the insurance industry of egregious abuses. While the consumer has the right to sue Firestone over injury or death related to flawed tires, no one has the right to sue an insurer if it acts negligently. Santorum opposed the consumer-friendly bill of rights and replaced it with legislation that removed the right to sue. Instead, weak language creating a vague "internal appeal" process with unspecified "external review" in the event of a denial of coverage replaces the right to sue. Unfortunately, the industry will create meaningless mediation without due process protections. Insurers have a contract with the insured, but it is unenforceable without the simple right to sue. Santorum voted for the Gregg Amendment and says he helped craft the weakened bill, which took the more palatable, industry-friendly name of the "Patient's Bill of Rights Plus." Since it removes the most important element, it would be more correctly called the Patient's Bill of Rights Minus. Oddly, though coming from a state with a high proportion of senior citizens, Santorum felt bold enough to vote for two measures whose most devastating impact would be on those most likely to face a serious illness. What could be his motivation? It could be money. Although Santorum has an enormous campaign war chest -- and regularly gives to other Republican campaigns from his own accumulations -- he takes an inordinate amount of money from groups and individuals who oppose the right to sue. Contributions to Santorum's war chest from the Health Benefits Coalition, which opposes health-care reform, totaled $48,823 in the 1999-2000 election cycle and $41,678 in the 1997-1998 session. (The HBC contribution includes both political action committee members as well as individual employees, as reported to the Federal Elections Commission, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.) Santorum also leads the pack in audacity. When asked about his support of measures that undermine the more complete Democratic patient's bill of rights, his response was carefully designed to give the impression that he was instrumental in bringing innovative health care access legislation to the Senate. Santorum wrote that the Patient's Bill of Rights Plus Act ensures that all Americans are protected from "bad health plans," because a patient will have the right to "be notified of termination" and will have coverage during a "transition period." Whether the insurance company can be compelled to pay such benefits since they cannot be sued seems to have completely slipped Santorum's mind. Perhaps large campaign contributions stimulate his memory. It's a pity that those who are too ill to fight their insurance company's denial fall so rapidly into debt that soft money is not on their "to do" list. Santorum sends a clear message that interested parties must pay to play. Perhaps voters should tell him what they think of this game.

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