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California has been a leader in patients rights, largely in response to abuses  by HMOs that, for instance, tried to eject new mothers and babies from the hospital a few hours after giving birth, and attempted to require "drive-by mastectomies."  The federal health reform bill could weaken or do away with all that, including a right to HIV/AIDS testing. Rep. Jackie patientrights.pngSpeier of San Mateo is leading a tough fight to preserve such rights, and so is Consumer Watchdog.

We're also pushing House leaders to make insurance companies live by stronger rules, if we're going to be required to buy their policies. 

San Francisco station KQED reported on Speier's crusade yesterday, including her organization of most of California's delegation in Congress behind it. The problem is a part of the Senate health reform bill that would require states to let insurance companies sell so-called multi-state health insurance, subject only to the rules of the state with the weakest laws. The policies might be a bit cheaper up front, but good luck getting any of the California patient rights. And good luck finding anyone to even complain to, since it is all but impossible for one state to interpret or enforce another state's laws.

The business and insurance lobbies that are demanding the stgriped-down policies, and other weakening of state rules, say they won't really harm anyone. But here's my rule: If corporations are willing to spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying for one clause in a law, they're expecting a major windfall from it.

The campaign to preserve strong patient rights is one of several crucial changes to the legislation that Consumer Watchdog outlined in a letter today (pdf) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Insurance companies will get tens of millions of new customers from health reform. We say they owe all of us better pricing, more efficiency and tougher accountability for the delay and denial of care that they now use as a profit center.