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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) spoke before colleagues on the Senate floor in support of the McCain/Edwards/Kennedy Bipartisan Patient Protection Act. Murray maintained that while the intent of the Act is to improve managed care, and that restoring the doctor-patient relationship must be Congress' number one priority.

Senator Murray has long been an advocate of a strong Patients' Bill of Rights. In 1999 as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Murray introduced an amendment during mark-up to prohibit "drive-through mastectomies." This amendment would have prohibited the practice of performing mastectomies on an out-patient basis. Murray also introduced an amendment to improve emergency room care. Both amendments were defeated on party-line votes.

Senator Murray also remains a leader in improving access to OB/GYN care.

The full text of Senator Murray's remarks follows.

Mr. President, families across our country are being denied the medical care they need.

These are people who have insurance, pay their premiums and think they're covered. But when they need care, too often they find their insurance company is more concerned about its immediate bottom line than their health care.

Like my colleagues I cringe at the stories I've heard. For example, a parent takes a child with a 105-degree fever to the emergency room in the middle of the night, only to be told later that their insurance won't pay for all the care that's needed.

Doctors offer their best medical opinions, only to see them overruled by an insurance company. Too often the system makes it harder for patients to get the care they need. There's more of a focus on short-term cost than on quality care.

And the truth is, those decisions by insurance companies and HMOs have real consequences. A patient's condition may worsen. A dad might not be able to go to work. A mom may need around the clock medical care. But under the current system, those patients have no legal recourse. If the company they've paid for medical coverage makes a bad decision, there is little recourse. That's wrong and that's just one of the problems I hope we'll fix by passing the bipartisan Patient Protection Act.

Mr. President, for several years I've been working in the HELP Committee and here on the floor to make sure patients get the care they need.

Last Congress, the other side put forth a very hollow bill that excluded many Americans and didn't provide the protections patients need.

But this year, we finally have a real chance to help families. That's why I'm proud this is the first major bill being offered in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

I support S. 1052, the bipartisan Patient Protection Act. It gives patients the protections they need.

During this debate, many amendments will be offered. Some of them would weaken this bill or draw the debate way from patient protections. I will call those attempts like I see them, and I will work to make sure that patients' rights are not watered down over the course of this debate.

Mr. President, healthcare quality and access are top issues for people in my home state. A few weeks ago, I spoke at a forum on health care in Olympia, Washington. We were expecting, at most, a hundred people to attend.

When I arrived at The Olympia Center, I saw almost 600 people packed into the auditorium and overflow rooms. They turned out in such great numbers and spoke with so much passion, because they're concerned about access to quality healthcare.

As we begin this year's debate here in the Senate, I want to outline some of the problems with our current system. Then, I want to outline some of the reforms I believe are needed.

I do want to mention that we are not trying to eliminate managed care. In fact, I think it's important that we have ways to coordinate care, focus on prevention and wellness, and diagnose problems sooner.

When the incentives are right, managed care can work. In Washington state, it has helped play a role in improving life expectancy, lowering infant mortality, and ensuring women get mammograms.

Unfortunately, today the incentives are all wrong. They focus more on cost than care -- more on a company's short-term financial health than on a patient's long-term physical health. We need to change the incentives so that people are fighting illness, not fighting the insurance company.

We need to make sure insurance protects you when you become ill and also helps prevent you from becoming sick in the first place.

We need a system where doctors are not spending 45 minutes on the phone with an insurance company so a sick child can be admitted to a hospital.

We need a system where parents can take an injured child to the closest emergency room instead of one that's miles away because the insurer demands it.

We need a system where the ultimate decision rests in the hands of patients based on the medical advice of their physicians.

We need simply to restore the doctor-patient relationship. Too often, a doctor is allowed to be little more than a consultant. Sometimes his or her commendations are accepted.

Other times they are not because someone else made a decision for that patient -- someone who hasn't even seen the patient and who often isn't even a qualified or licensed health care provider.

We need to help the companies that are trying to do the right thing, but are being beaten out by some bad players. And we need a system where patients will know up-front what their own rights are.

These days, it's only when you become seriously ill that a patient learns how good or bad their insurer or HMO is. That's why we need clear, uniformed federal quality control standards to protect all consumers.

Those are some of the changes we should seek. Now I'd like to turn to a few specific points I'll be fighting for in this debate.

First of all, we need to guarantee access to specialty care.

Secondly we need to guarantee access to clinical trials and comprehensive care.

We need to cover emergency treatment and not just the care provided in the emergency room itself.

We need to make sure we protect as many Americans as possible. Some bills have such a limited scope that many patients would get no protection.

And finally, we need to make sure that plans are held accountable for health care decisions and that the external review process is objective and timely.

So those are the things I'll be fighting for during this debate.

Mr. President, we know that patients aren't getting the care they need. We know what the problems are, and we have a bill that will fix them. The American people have been waiting too long for real health care protections, and we have an obligation to give them the coverage they need. That's what this coming debate will be about.