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FDI Urges President to Oppose Deal on 'Patients' Bill of Rights'

FALLS CHURCH, Va. - Food Distributors International (FDI) on Wednesday urged President Bush to resist any deal over managed care reform legislation that could jeopardize the ability of food distributors to provide health care benefits to their employees.

In a letter to the President, FDI president and CEO John R. Block noted that FDI member companies are experiencing double-digit health care cost increases, and that a new survey shows that benefit costs increased by more than 14 percent last year.

Block sent the letter to the President as discussions continued between the White House and Democratic leaders to revive HMO reform legislation, sometimes called the "Patients' Bill of Rights." Differing versions were passed by the House and Senate last year, and a conference committee has been organized to work out a compromise.

Most significantly for food distributors and other employers are provisions that would expand individual rights to sue employers in the event of an adverse decision by a health care provider or insurance carrier. Such provisions would result in higher premiums at a time when health insurance costs are already skyrocketing. In addition, mandates contained in the legislation would also add costs.

Block pointed out that the association's recent survey of health care costs for member companies showed that more than half the companies are being forced to increase employee contributions or reduce benefits in order to cope with increased costs.

In a telephone news conference Tuesday, Jan. 29, representatives of two FDI member companies emphasized the impact such a legislative deal would have on their firms.

David C. Busch, corporate vice president-administration, Roundy's Inc., a Peewaukee, WI-based wholesaler, said that health care coverage is one of the most important economic benefits the company provides to its 13,500 employees. Additional costs imposed by managed care reform legislation "could put those benefits in play" as the company is forced to seek ways of controlling costs.

Nathan Duet, corporate vice president, human resources, Performance Food Group (PFG), a Richmond, Va.-based foodservice distributor, noted that his company is growing rapidly by acquisition, and as it does, seeks to upgrade newly acquired employees' health care coverage to PFG's program. PFG's plan is fully self-insured, and adding additional costs "would simply make our plan very difficult to continue (at current levels)," he said.
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