PATIENT PROTECTION ADVANCES IN CONGRESS
The week of Oct. 7 demonstrated what a “hot button” issue health care has become for the American people. The House of Representatives passed the Norwood-Dingell managed care patient protection bill by a huge margin of 275-161, voting down bills that offered lower levels of consumer protection. Only two Democrats voted against the bill, and 68 Republicans joined with Democrats to pass it.
The legislation offers extensive safeguards for the rights of people who belong to HMOs. It makes it easier for patients to visit the doctors they prefer, to get emergency-room bills paid, and to receive experimental treatments, as well as giving them new powers to protest HMOs’ medical decisions in and out of court.
The next step, which is likely to prove difficult, is to resolve the differences between the House bill and the far more limited measure the Senate adopted three months ago.
OSHA ERGONOMICS STANDARD CAN GO FORWARD
Efforts to prevent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from establishing an ergonomic standard were pushed back on Oct. 7. Anti-labor legislators had been trying to tie an anti-ergonomic measure to an appropriations bill (which would have been very difficult to veto) but defenders of the OSHA regulation prevented a vote on the rider by threatening a filibuster, and it was withdrawn.
OSHA’s proposed standard would mandate improvements in poorly designed tools and work procedures, which disable tens of thousands of workers each year. It will be published in November, and hearings are expected to take place shortly thereafter. However, there is still a possibility that the rider could be attached to another bill. In addition, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently extended its review of the proposed standard. This is a problem because unless the rule is proposed soon, allowing the comment period and public hearing process to begin, OSHA will not be able to complete the rulemaking process and issue a final rule before the end of this administration. 802 members are urged to contact OMB Director Jacob Lew at the Office of Management and Budget, Washington, DC 20503, urging his office to complete its review.
PROVIDING REAL JOBS FOR THOSE LEAVING WELFARE
In the wake of welfare “reform,” thousands of New Yorkers have been removed from the welfare rolls and thousands more are scheduled to be dropped, as statutory time limits for public assistance approach. Although the national economy is booming, there is a severe shortage of entry-level or low skill jobs in New York City. This creates serious barriers to the permanent employment of people on welfare and the chronically unemployed, who often lack skills and education.
A program that would provide real jobs, training and support services for those leaving welfare has been initiated by Councilmember Stephen DiBrienza, in the form of the Transitional Employment Program (Intro No. 354-A). A five-year demonstration project which would be administered by the Department of Employment, it would create 10,000 temporary jobs in local government agencies and community-based organizations for individuals who are leaving welfare or who are unemployed. These people would be employees, receiving salary and benefits comparable to those of fellow workers, and would also be provided with education, job training, career counseling and childcare so that they can succeed in the program and achieve self-sufficiency afterwards. If the other employees are members of a collective bargaining unit, then the participants in this program would also be members and would receive the salary and the benefits provided in the collective bargaining agreement.
Intro No. 354-A has the support of 18 other Councilmembers and Public Advocate Mark Green. Mayor Giuliani opposes it. There have been two hearings on the bill before the Committee of General Welfare, which DeBrienza chairs. Letters to Council Speaker Peter Vallone can help move this important measure forward.