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A debate on patient protection legislation is under way in Washington. Two proposed bills have emerged as the front-runners for consideration by the Senate -- the Kennedy-McCain bill and the Breaux-Frist-Jeffords bill.

Breaux-Frist-Jeffords has external review as its cornerstone and is a bill that Univera Healthcare can endorse.

Here in New York State, a process for external review is already the law. We believe this has made health plans more accountable for their decisions by providing patients with a process for timely review by an independent panel of physicians. Review is rapid and the panel's decisions are binding.

Kennedy-McCain, by contrast, relies on liability rather than accountability. This flawed approach, endorsed by special interests -- including personal-injury attorneys -- has unlimited litigation as its cornerstone.

Kennedy-McCain would result in lengthy litigation at a time when patients need quick action. In addition, it would expose not only health plans, but also employers, hospitals and individual physicians to new lawsuits with unlimited damages.

This is a prescription for disaster that could unravel the employer-based health care system as we know it, and result in higher premiums and more uninsured Americans.

The time is now to redirect the patient protection debate where it belongs -- on benefiting consumers rather than personal-injury attorneys.

ARTHUR R. GOSHIN, M.D. President and Chief Executive Officer
Univera Healthcare

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