Medical Liability Reform Bill Passes House Energy and Commerce Committee, Moves to House Floor
The House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday by voice vote approved a bill (HR 5) that would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits at $250,000, the New York Times reports. The legislation, sponsored by the Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.), would allow punitive damages of $250,000 or twice the amount of economic damages, whichever is higher. The legislation would cover lawsuits filed against physicians, HMOs, pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies. The committee debated the bill in a day-long session "tinged with partisan rancor," according to the Times. Republicans on the committee said that the legislation would reduce malpractice insurance premiums; Democrats said that malpractice insurer investment losses, not damage awards in lawsuits, have led to increases in malpractice insurance premiums. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Billy Tauzin (R-La.) said that the legislation would eliminate the "perverse incentives in our current medical liability system that force doctors to look at patients as potential lawsuits." However, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), said, "It's essentially a special-interest type of protection for HMOs, drug companies and other health care corporations" (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 3/7).
Democratic committee members yesterday "offered one amendment after another" to eliminate the $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages and to make other revisions, but none of the amendments passed, CongressDaily/AM reports. An amendment proposed by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) would have eliminated the $250,000 cap, "tightened punitive damage standards to include gross negligence and reckless indifference to life," added provisions to prevent "frivolous lawsuits," mandated that malpractice insurers spend half of the funds saved under the bill to reduce premiums and funded a study on malpractice insurance costs, CongressDaily/AM reports. The committee rejected the amendment on a 31-20 vote (Rich, CongressDaily/AM, 3/7). Next week, the bill moves to the House floor, where a "lengthy debate" is expected, the AP/Orlando Sentinel reports (Carter, AP/Orlando Sentinel, 3/6). According to the Times, the bill will likely pass in the House but may face challenges in the Senate; some Senate Republicans have said that the bill should include an exemption for "egregious cases" of malpractice, such as the death of 17-year-old Jesica Santillan. Santillan received a heart and lung transplant from a donor with an incompatible blood type and died last month in a Duke University hospital after she underwent a second heart and lung transplant in an effort to save her life (New York Times, 3/7).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.