President's Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry

Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities

American consumers and their families are experiencing an historic transition of the U.S. system of health care financing and delivery. In establishing the Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry, President Clinton asked that it advise him "on changes occurring in the health care system and recommend such measures as may be necessary to promote and assure health care quality and value, and protect consumers and workers in the health care system." As part of that effort, the President has asked the Commission to draft a Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

This Commission includes 34 members from a wide variety of backgrounds including consumers, business, labor, health care providers, health plans, State and local governments, and health care quality experts. We hope our diversity of interests and backgrounds will make our recommendations more valuable to those who consider them.

This is an appropriate time to reexamine and reconsider the methods by which our Nation and the health care industry establish and protect the rights and identify the responsibilities of those people who use the health care system. The Commission believes it is essential to preserve those elements of the emerging system that have a positive impact on the quality of care as well as the cost and availability of health insurance coverage.

Development of a Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities is an important step forward for all those involved in the health care system. Consumers, health care professionals, administrators of health care facilities, and those who operate health plans will benefit from a clear set of unifying standards. The Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities can help to establish a stronger relationship of trust among consumers, health care professionals, health care institutions, and health plans by helping to sort out the shared responsibilities of each of these participants in a system that promotes quality improvement.

The work of this Commission builds on the efforts of many others. The Commission reviewed dozens of proposals prepared and released by a variety of organizations1 that have addressed the rights, responsibilities, and protection of consumers. We have heard public testimony from dozens of individuals and organizations. We are grateful for their contributions.

The Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities charts a course for the continued enhancement of health systems and processes that serve to protect consumers and ensure quality. While the rights and responsibilities included in this report are intended to apply to all consumers and participants in the health care system, the Commission recognizes that the strength of these protections will grow over time as the capabilities of the health care industry become more sophisticated. Certain portions of the industry will require additional time to make these adjustments, but the Commission intends that the bulk of its recommendations be put in place within the next 3 years.

The Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities was first drafted by the Subcommittee on Consumer Rights, Protections, and Responsibilities. The Subcommittee met in open session on seven separate occasions, and the Commission met six times during that same time period. The Subcommittee considered background papers on each topic, heard public testimony on most topics, and considered two or three drafts of each chapter. At each point in that process, the Subcommittee briefed the full Commission on its work and received feedback on those issues. The Commission also has considered draft chapters and revised drafts reflecting the input of its members. Throughout this process, the Subcommittee and the Commission have operated on a consensus basis that has allowed any member to place an issue before the respective body for consideration. The list of issues was refined to reflect the discussions of the Subcommittee and the Commission. The final product reflects the areas of overall agreement expressed by Commission members.

Objectives of a Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities

The Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities is intended to accomplish three major goals.

First, to strengthen consumer confidence by assuring the health care system is fair and responsive to consumers' needs, provides consumers with credible and effective mechanisms to address their concerns, and encourages consumers to take an active role in improving and assuring their health.

Second, to reaffirm the importance of a strong relationship between patients and their health care professionals.

Third, to reaffirm the critical role consumers play in safeguarding their own health by establishing both rights and responsibilities for all participants in improving health status.

The Commission does not, in this report, speak to the issues of implementation or enforcement of the Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. The rights enumerated in this report can be achieved in several ways including voluntary actions by health plans, purchasers, facilities, and providers; the effects of market forces; accreditation processes; as well as State or Federal legislation or regulation. In its final report to the President, the Commission intends to speak to the optimal methods for implementing and enforcing these rights through one or more of these approaches.

Finally, the Commission believes that the American people should have access to health care that is of high quality, evidence-based, safe, free of errors, and is available to all Americans regardless of ability to pay. Progress, over time, will require changes that must be made prudently, realistically, and with due regard to the needs of all stakeholders in the system. This Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities specifies improvements that we believe are achievable now and in the next several years. It acquires even more meaning in the context of a broader overarching commitment to ensure that full access to high-quality health care will eventually be available to all Americans.


  1. The Commission examined proposals by organizations including: the American Association of Health Plans, the American Association of Retired Persons, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the Campaign for Health Security, Citizen Action, Families USA, the Health Insurance Association of America, HIP Health Plans, the Health Policy Tracking Service, Kaiser Permanente, Kaiser/Group Health, the Midwest Bioethics Center, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the National Committee on Quality Assurance, the National Health Council, the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York, the Service Employees International Union, the Utilization Review Accreditation Committee, and many others.
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Last Revised: Wednesday, June 24, 1998