Cloture Vote on Medical Malpractice Bill for OB/GYNs Fails in Senate
As expected, a Senate bill (S 2061) that would cap noneconomic damages at $250,000 in medical malpractice lawsuits against OB/GYNs was blocked by Democrats on Tuesday as a cloture vote to limit debate fell short of the necessary 60 votes, the New York Times reports (Stolberg, New York Times, 2/25). The malpractice legislation, sponsored by Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.), also would have capped punitive damages in malpractice lawsuits against OB/GYNs at $250,000 or twice the amount of economic damages, whichever is higher (California Healthline, 2/23). In addition, the bill would have capped liability for manufacturers of drugs and medical devices for obstetrical/gynecological services and limited fees for lawyers who take such cases on a contingency basis (Dewar, Washington Post, 2/25). The OB/GYN bill was introduced after the Senate defeated a broader bill (S 11) last year when Senate Democrats blocked a vote on the bill, which included the same caps on noneconomic and punitive damages as the new legislation but would have applied to malpractice lawsuits against all physicians, HMOs, pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies. Republicans pared down last year's bill in an effort to gain support for malpractice caps on individual specialties, starting with obstetrics and gynecology (California Healthline, 2/23). The OB/GYN bill, which is supported by insurers and the American Medical Association, fell 12 votes short of the 60 needed for cloture in a vote that went largely along party lines (Holland, AP/Akron Beacon Journal, 2/25).
Following the vote, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said it was "shameful" that Democrats "placed personal-injury lawyers above pregnant women" (Fagan, Washington Times, 2/25). "We're going to keep going until we succeed," Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) said (New York Times, 2/25). Republicans said they will highlight the issue in this fall's campaigns and intend to broaden the debate by introducing additional tort reform legislation (Washington Post, 2/25). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Gregg said the next bills will focus on protections for trauma and emergency department personnel and doctors who work in rural and underserved areas. Gregg said, "We're trying to make a very important point. The only way we're going to change the intransigence of the Democrats is through public opinion" (Schuler, CQ Today, 2/24). C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" on Tuesday included an interview with AMA President Donald Palmisano on the bill ("Washington Journal," C-SPAN, 2/24). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.