House Committee Approves Bill Capping Awards in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
The House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved by voice vote a bill that would cap awards in medical malpractice cases in an effort to control "skyrocketing" liability insurance rates, CongressDaily/AM reports. The legislation would limit noneconomic damages for pain and suffering to $250,000, but awards for economic losses, such as current and future wages, would not be limited. Punitive damages would be limited to twice economic damages or $250,000, whichever is greater. The legislation also would limit attorneys' fees, basing them on a sliding scale. Patients filing suit against a physician would need to do so no later than three years after the injury, or one year after discovering the alleged malpractice, whichever was first (Posner, CongressDaily/AM, 9/11). Republicans have said limits on medical malpractice awards would "drive down" health care costs and would help doctors, who have been forced to "flee" certain states or stop practicing in some specialties, such as emergency medicine and obstetrics and gynecology, because of high malpractice insurance premiums.
Democrats, however, have said the limits are unfair to patients and would allow the health care industry to avoid "accountability for lapses" (Carter, Associated Press, 9/10). Democrats, who say the bill would "preemp[t]" state laws, maintain that juries, not federal lawmakers, should determine the amount of compensation for injuries related to medical malpractice. Based on their criticism of the measure, Democrats offered 13 different amendments to the bill, but those efforts were defeated (CongressDaily/AM, 9/11). American Medical Association President Dr. Yank Coble said the bill would "bring common sense back to our nation's medical liability system and bring much-needed relief to patients throughout the country who are struggling to find physicians" (Associated Press, 9/10). In July, the Senate defeated a similar bill in a procedural move, and the House bill is not expected to get through Congress this year, CongressDaily/AM reports (CongressDaily/AM, 9/11).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.