Bush To Announce Plan To Cap Medical Malpractice Awards in Lawsuits Against Doctors, Insurance Companies
President Bush today is expected to announce a plan to limit medical malpractice awards in lawsuits against doctors and insurance companies, the Washington Post reports. Under Bush's plan, which he will announce at a speech in High Point, N.C., the amount patients could be awarded for noneconomic damages, such as compensation for pain and suffering, would be limited to $250,000. In the rare instance that punitive damages are awarded, they would be limited to $250,000 or twice economic damages, whichever is greater. Economic damages, such as medical expenses or lost income, would remain uncapped. States currently set limits on malpractice awards. According to the Post, Bush will say that his proposal would make health care less expensive and increase health care access by limiting the number of doctors who quit practicing because of rising medical malpractice insurance premiums. Many observers attribute the high cost of malpractice premiums to expensive damage awards (Allen, Washington Post, 7/25). Bush's announcement comes in conjunction with an HHS policy paper released yesterday that blames rising medical malpractice insurance premiums for forcing some doctors to close their practices, limit the type of patients they see or leave communities where they can no longer afford malpractice insurance (HHS release, 7/24). Bush's plan would require approval from Congress (Washington Post, 7/25). Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.) has introduced a bill (HR 4600) that would impose limits on noneconomic and punitive damages identical to those in Bush's plan, as well as limit the number of years a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit and award damages based on the degree of damage suffered by the plaintiff (Chen, Los Angeles Times, 7/25).
Bush's plan, called the "Framework for Improving the Medical Liability System," faces "long odds of [congressional] passage," the Wall Street Journal reports. Patient advocates and trial lawyers are likely to "vigorously oppose" the proposal (Lueck/Cummings, Wall Street Journal, 7/25). Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said, "Limiting liability for providers, who are already pressured by HMOs to cut corners and be less cautious, will turn aspects of the health care system into an even bigger death trap" (Los Angeles Times, 7/25). Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, a liberal consumer group, said Bush's plan would "demolish patients' ability to hold hospitals and physicians accountable" (Washington Post, 7/25). The full HHS report is available online. Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this file.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.