MAY 30, 1996

Good morning and thank you all for coming to this press conference. My name is Brian Lindberg and I serve as the Executive Director of the Consumer Coalition for Quality Health Care, which has for more than three years brought a diverse group of consumer health organizations together under the banner of consumer protection and quality assurance in health care for all Americans. This group of organizations came together during the early months of the health care reform debate and committed to a health care system that provided meaningful consumer information and choice, consumer participation, grievance and appeals rights for individuals denied coverage or services, consumer advocacy programs, data collection, and quality assurance including ongoing external quality monitoring. We actually won many of those legislative battles, but lost the health care reform war.

We are announcing today the next phase of this Coalition's attack on a health care system that fails to protect the rights of the very individuals that it has been created to serve.

We live in a country known for the highest quality health care in the world if you can afford it, but now quality is being threatened for even those who have health care coverage. Today we are raising to a new level our voices and our efforts on behalf of health care consumers. The Consumer Coalition for Quality Health Care working with millions of activists, seniors, union members, quality experts, healthcare workers, advocates for Medicare, Medicaid, children and the disabled are mobilizing, building movements, and organizing a loud and clear voice and message: the U.S. health care system must provide quality care and consumer rights first and profits last. We will not let consumer protection and quality fall to the depths of mediocrity as hospital and Blue Cross buyouts, multi-million dollar CEO bonuses, cost-cutting, and greed threaten to pull our health system down to a new low.

Consumers of health care are confused and rightfully so. One day workers wake up and they are told they are part of a managed care plan and that they've got to change doctors. Their doctors aren't allowed to tell them what treatment options might be available outside the plan. While Congress devises ways to push Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries into managed care with few consumer rights, health care workers witness massive staff cutbacks that not only threaten their jobs and livelihood but also the quality of care that they have committed to provide to each patient they treat. Consumers read articles in their daily papers and national magazines raising serious questions about the care they may receive in HMOs. Even the TV show E.R. used an episode to label the current managed care of patients as driven by dollars not sense. Consumers are making decisions about which health plan to choose by a comprehensive examination of the billboards and million dollar ad campaigns they have seen - not on standardized quality indicators or even consumer satisfaction surveys.

With all the confusing messages that consumers and patients see, the Consumer Coalition will work to raise the consciousness of the American public about their health care system and how it is slipping out of our control. With legislative initiatives at the state and federal levels, a home page on the Internet, a 1-800 number for consumers and health care workers to call and report cases of poor quality care, and with a campaign to educate and organize advocates around the country, we plan to be a valuable resource to those that expect quality care for their families.

With the backdrop of a day-long hearing on the gag rule issue, which I commend the Commerce Committee for calling, consumers are saying to federal and state legislators and regulators that the quality of our care and our lives is in serious jeopardy and you need to know that we are raising the stakes in our fight for protections and quality. We will measure your commitment to us by your commitment to our principles. The gag rule and drive through deliveries are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the work you need to do to protect the American people from the entrepreneurial zeal of the health care industry. Consumers understand the need for cost containment, but we won't sacrifice the quality of care for our children, our elderly parents, disabled individuals, or ourselves.

When this managed care revolution with all the market place turmoil finally falls into place the Consumer Coalition will have fought the hard fight to guarantee that the weakest, who often suffer the most in any revolution, have been given some basic rights. We don't plan to try to stop the revolution - managed care has benefits and has worked well for millions of Americans - but we do plan to make it work for more people, particularly for those patients who are disabled, elderly, and have serious illnesses.

We will fight for the following basic elements for the health care system. All consumers need accurate information to make meaningful choices between plans. They need the right to appeal decisions of denial or termination of coverage. Many Americans need the knowledge and resourcefulness of a consumer advocate or ombudsman to help them negotiate this complicated system, where whole departments exist to keep patients from being "overserved." And who is watching the whole health care system? The current system, with its emphasis on competition and self-policing, must in the future include policies and programs for independent oversight. This includes a demand that the industry must collect patient encounter data and provide it to independent quality monitors and the public so that we can make a determination on which plans are providing the quality services that they claim they provide.

The Consumer Coalition can't do it all but we are bigger and stronger and more determined than ever to aggressively challenge the government at all levels, the health care system and the managed care world to address our demands for a system that is centered around the consumer. Somewhere along the line some have forgotten that the health care system exists for the sole purpose of providing quality heath care to patients. It is the goal of this Coalition to make sure that everyone who reaps the financial benefits of this multi-billion dollar industry remembers that their jobs exist to provide quality care.

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