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Gore Calls for Enhanced HMO Coverage of Female Patients

By Edwin Chen and Dana Calvo
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- LAS VEGAS

Vice President Al Gore Monday endorsed new protections for women who receive medical care through health maintenance organizations, vowing to push for legislation pending in Congress that requires HMOs to cover recommended breast cancer treatments, minimum hospital stays for breast cancer patients and second opinions on their diagnoses and treatment recommendations.

Gore also hammered at several related issues, calling on the Republican-controlled Congress once more to enact a broad patients bill of rights for all of the estimated 135 million Americans who belong to HMOs or similar managed care plans.

Gore spoke Monday afternoon at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and also participated in a panel discussion on women’s health issues at the university.

“I’m calling for tough new patients’ rights legislation to make sure women get the best health care -- not just the cheapest -- by making sure women diagnosed with breast cancer can get a second opinion,” Gore said.

“Let’s put an end to the HMO penalties and incentives that encourage doctors and nurses to give women substandard care. That’s wrong -- and it ought to be against the law,” he said.

The vice president said more than 75 percent of insured women under age 65 are enrolled in managed care plans.

The bill he endorsed is co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Their measure would require HMOs to cover minimum hospital stays for breast cancer treatments such as mastectomies, lumpectomies and lymph node dissections and prohibit HMOs from offering financial incentives that might encourage medical providers to limit access to medical treatments.

Gore’s continuing courtship of women is no mystery. Much of his post-convention surge past Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the polls has been fueled by fresh support from women voters.

Before leaving here for Los Angeles, Gore addressed a Teamsters conference in Las Vegas, where he formally accepted the endorsement of the 1.5 million-member union.

Then the vice president flew to Los Angeles, where he attended a multimillion dollar fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee at the Beverly Hills home of grocery store mogul Ron Burkle, in whose home President Clinton often stays while visiting Los Angeles.

Tuesday, Gore is scheduled to discuss his plan to ensure the privacy of consumers’ medical records before heading for Silicon Valley for campaign and fund-raising events.

Gore’s running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, also focused on health care reform Monday when he was in New Mexico.