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While Lawmakers Debate Patient Rights Bill, Others Are Stuck In Limbo

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CARY — Patients rights are currently a hot topic in Washington. Democrats think you should be able to sue your HMO over the decisions they make about your care while Republicans believe a lot of lawsuits would drive up health care costs. While the debate continues, some people are stuck in the middle.

Steve Grissom was healty and active until doctors diagnosed him with leukemia in 1985. After receiving hundreds of blood transfusions, his doctor made another discovery.

"I was exposed to 4,000 donors and it turned out that none of them had been tested for HIV," he says.

Grissom discovered he had full-blown AIDS. He has spent the last 15 years fighting two battles -- one for his life and one to make HMOs pay for his health care. At one point, he says a HMO decided not to pay for the oxygen he needs to stay alive.

"Although I'd been using oxygen for two years, and I had a prescription from a specialist at Duke Medical Center, but that HMO decided I didn't need oxygen and they just cut me off," he says.

Grissom thinks he should have the right to sue, but health care attorney Jan Yarborough says everyone is better off if patients and health plans settle their differences out of court.

Ultimately, the person who pays the price for increased costs at the HMO level, including the cost of litigation, the cost of hiring attorneys to prosecute and defend the litigation, would have to be passed on."

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the Patients' Bill of Rights Tuesday. State lawmakers are also considering measures that would protect patients. If both pass, companies would be held to the stricter standard.