Obama: Make Equal Justice for Patients a State of the Union Pledge & Re-establish White House Office of Consumer Affairs

Jan 26, 2010, 10:26 ET from Consumer Watchdog

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Consumer Watchdog urged President Obama to watch Sunday's Dateline NBC documentary on patients who have insurance but not adequate coverage, then pledge in his State of the Union address tomorrow to deal with the lack of legal accountability for insurers and lack of adequate representation for consumers in the federal government. 

The nonprofit consumer group called upon Obama to close a legal loophole that currently bars 132 million Americans from holding their health insurance providers legally accountable for denials and delays of care—even if those denials or delays result in serious injury or death.  Consumer Watchdog also asked Obama not to wait for Congress, but to re-establish a Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs in the White House—a post every other Democratic president since President Kennedy has filled to be a voice for patients who lack legal remedies against insurance companies.

Read Consumer Watchdog's letter to President Obama below or download it here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/EqualJustice.pdf .

Sunday's NBC "Dateline" special can be viewed at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35019986/ns/dateline_nbc-health_stories/.  More information on the lack of legal accountable ability for Americans who get health coverage through private employers is available at: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/patients/EqualJusticeForPatients/.

Consumer Watchdog's letter to President Obama follows: 

Dear Mr. President,

Before Wednesday's State of the Union address, we urge you to review Sunday night's edition of Dateline NBC, which features three families who suffered deeply for lack of enough legal leverage to get medical treatment promised through their employer-sponsored health insurance. Any of the 132 million Americans with such insurance coverage could find themselves in similar straits: with health coverage but without care they desperately need, because they have no adequate legal remedies when they fall seriously ill and are wrongfully denied treatment.  

The dilemma of these families stems in large part from a 1987 Supreme Court decision, Pilot Life vs. Dedeaux, which is widely regarded as a misinterpretation of Congress's intent in enacting the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). On Wednesday, we urge you to call upon Congress to fix this judicially created inequality that leaves individuals at the mercy of insurers' delays and denials of necessary care.

We hope you will also take an immediate step that does not require action by Congress: the creation of a consumer affairs office in the White House. One benefit of this representation for consumers would be its power to speak for patients who cannot seek justice in our courts, yet lack other effective advocacy on their behalf. A consumer affairs advocate in the White House would be heard by insurers and could make sure federal agencies are more responsive to patients' needs.

Every Democratic president since John F. Kennedy has had a special assistant for consumer affairs in the White House. We urge you to announce Wednesday that you'll re-establish that influential post, supported by a formal White House office of consumer affairs. That office, first created under President Richard Nixon would amplify consumers' voice even in the absence of Congressional action.

We know these have been difficult months for reform but we urge you to forge ahead both on Capitol Hill and by fully using the powers you have as our nation's chief executive. Patients in America, even those with insurance, are left today to struggle as disempowered individuals against corporate behemoths. They need your help and persistence now.

Thank you,

Jamie Court

Judy Dugan

Jerry Flanagan

Carmen Balber

Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, CA. Find us on the web at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org

SOURCE Consumer Watchdog



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