We should have a bill of rights in health care

Consumer Concerns By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
March 18, 2001

On March 26, 1997, President Clinton created the Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry. He charged it with "recommend(ing) such measures as may be necessary to promote and secure health care quality and value

and protect consumers and workers in the health care system."

As part of that charge, the President asked the Commission to develop a "Consumer Bill of Rights" on health care.

On November 20, 1997 the Presidential Advisory Commission released a proposed "Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" in health care.

In a report to President Clinton, the Commission said:

"American consumers and their families are experiencing an historic transition of the U.S. system of health care financing and delivery."

The Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities has three goals:
* To strengthen consumer confidence in assuring the health care system is fair and responsive to consumers' needs, provides consumers with credible and effective mechanisms to address their concerns, and encourages consumers to take an active role in improving and assuring their health.
* To reaffirm the importance of a strong relationship between patients and their health care professionals.
* To reaffirm the critical role consumers play in safeguarding their own health by establishing both rights and responsibilities for all participants in improving health status.
From a Release we learn that
"In developing the Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, the Commission established a Subcommittee on Consumer Rights, Protections and Responsibilities, which held a series of six public hearings in Washington, D.C., Burlington, Vermont and Chicago, Illinois. The Subcommittee and the Commission heard public testimony from nearly three dozen expert witnesses and considered consumer protection proposals by nearly two dozen national and regional organizations."
The proposed Bill of Rights and Responsibilities contained provisions for -

* Information disclosures
* Choice of providers and plans
* Access to Emergency Services
* Participation in treatment decisions
* Respect and nondiscrimination
* Confidentiality of health information
* Complaints and appeals
* Consumer responsibilities.
In the section dealing with Consumer responsibilities it is noted that in a health care system that promotes consumer rights, it is reasonable to expect and encourage consumers to assume reasonable responsibilities. Greater individual involvement by consumers in
their care increases the likelihood of achieving the best outcomes and helps support a quality improvement, cost-conscious environment.
Among the matters listed as responsibilities we find that consumers should
*take responsibility for maximising healthy habits, such as exercising, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet
*avoid knowingly spreading disease
*show respect for other patients and health workers
*make a good-faith effort to meet financial obligations.
*report wrongdoing and fraud to appropriate resources or legal authorities.

In the United States of America, as most of us would know, there is no free medical service, a situation that puzzles those of us brought up under the British system. Consumers are therefore compelled to take out health insurance policies. A Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities in the health care industry should be welcomed.

In Guyana, also, with the massive deterioration in the health care sector, it is important that a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities in health care should be on our statute book. For instance, the responsibility that consumers should report wrongdoing and fraud is essential. The changing of expiry dates on drugs and the issuing of tablets by doctors in plain white envelopes with no instructions for use, no name of the drug, the patient or the person prescribing and no mention of the date should be reported to the relevant authorities. The practice should be condemned.

Consumers are advised not to accept tablets from any doctor if he fails to give on the packet such information as is absolutely necessary.