AMA ‘Alarmed’ Over Increased Liability in Patients’ Bill of Rights
Doctors have "suddenly become alarmed" that some proposed patients' rights legislation "could boomerang and expose them to new lawsuits," the New York Times reports. Doctors say that some of the proposals would make it easier for patients to sue doctors in federal court, making physicians as well as health plans, liable for damages. In a "confidential analysis," the AMA determined that Sen. Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) proposed patients' bill of rights, which is endorsed by the White House, would create "additional liability" for physicians by "exposing them to lawsuits in federal court." Meanwhile, the AMA "strongly supports" patients' rights legislation
sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), John Edwards (D-N.C.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) that would give patients "a broader right to sue HMOs, insurance companies, group health plans and anyone who served as an agent of a health plan." Supported by most Democrats, the McCain-Edwards measure could hold defendants liable, in federal jury trials, "if they failed to exercise 'ordinary care' in making claims decisions or in performing their duties under the terms of a health plan." The AMA says the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill would "help patients pierce the shield that for many years protected HMOs against lawsuits" but would not subject doctors to suits in federal court. However, Stephanie Kanwit, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who advises insurers, disagreed, saying that the bill would provide "a statuary basis for patients to sue physicians under federal law in their capacity as agents of health plans." While many states limit the amount of damages patients can recover in malpractice lawsuits, Kanwit said that such limits "might not apply" in federal cases under the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards bill. Defending the legislation, Edwards said it was "absolutely not our purpose" to increase physicians' liability.
While Democrats and Republicans now "generally" agree on certain aspects of a patients' bill of rights -- including the right to obtain emergency care, the right to receive care from a specialist and the right to appeal a claims denial to an independent panel of medical experts -- the debate over liability, whether patients should have "new rights" to sue HMOs and insurance companies, is "blocking action on the legislation." The Times reports that doctors' concerns about liability "could complicate efforts to find a compromise." In addition, lawmakers still must determine whether such cases should be filed in federal or state court (Pear, New York Times, 5/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.