Dismissing as "an empty promise" GOP-backed legislation to create a patients' bill of rights, President Clinton on Saturday pressed Congress to pass a measure that would allow patients to sue their health insurers.

"They should reject proposals that are more loophole than law," Clinton said Saturday in his weekly radio address, delivered live during his weekend getaway in the Hamptons.Speaking before a group of doctors, nurses, breast cancer patients, Clinton said more than 8 million military members, their families and Defense Department employees will be given the right to sue their health managers under an executive order he plans to issue.

"These men and women stand ready every day to keep our nation safe," he said. "They should not have to worry about the health care they or their families receive."

Clinton approved the same legal protection, along with other health care insurance guarantees, earlier this year for 85 million Americans in federal health-care plans and 3 million veterans.

On July 24, the House approved Republican legislation over a competing Democratic bill. The GOP measure didn't offer any provision to allow patients to sue their health maintenance organizations over denied care. Clinton's advisers have said they may recommend a veto if changes are not made before GOP legislation reaches the president's desk.

In the Senate, Democratic and Republican leaders have been unable to reach agreement to get their rival patient protection bills to the floor for votes before recessing for their traditional August break.

"Any bill that doesn't guarantee these (legal) protections is a patient's bill of rights in name only," Clinton said. "It simply will not protect the American people or ensure the quality health care they deserve."

About 160 million Americans are covered by HMOs today, he said.

In the GOP radio response, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Republicans reject Democratic plans because the GOP wants to thwart costly new lawsuits that could result. Legal attacks on HMOs could drive up health-care prices and "cause some people to lose their health insurance altogether," she said, highlighting partisan differences over proposed health insurance laws.

"Our plan differs from the Democrats' bill in a fundamental respect: It places treatment decisions in the hands of doctors, not lawyers," Collins said.

"You just can't sue your way to quality care," she added. "If you are denied coverage, you should have the right to a quick and free review by an independent doctor."

Collins noted that a patients' bill of rights is needed, however, because Americans "feel increasingly powerless about their health care."

Polls show most Americans would support new consumer protections against health plan cost-cutting tactics.