New York Times Examines Senate Prospects for Medical Malpractice Bill
The New York Times yesterday examined the Senate prospects of a bill that would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits at $250,000. The House passed a similar bill (HR 5) in March, but the legislation "appears headed for defeat" in the Senate, the Times reports (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 7/6). The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.), would cap noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits at $250,000 and would allow punitive damages of $250,000 or twice the amount of economic damages, whichever is higher. The legislation covers lawsuits filed against physicians, HMOs, pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies. The bill also would allow state governments to increase or decrease the cap; the legislation would not cap economic damages, which include medical costs and lost wages (California Healthline, 4/22). The bill, which President Bush supports, has no Democratic sponsors in the Senate, and Senate Republican leaders have said that they do not have the 60 votes required to end a Democratic filibuster of the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) plans to introduce the bill today to force a floor vote. Frist said that the vote, which could take place as early as Wednesday, would "force lawmakers to take a stand" on the bill, could "expose them to more pressure from lobbyists" and might lead to a compromise later this year, the Times reports. However, some Democrats have raised concerns that Frist "is circumventing Senate procedure by bringing the measure up for a vote" without consideration in committee and said that he "is using the vote to generate a political issue for Republicans" in the 2004 election, the Times reports (New York Times, 7/6).
The Times yesterday also examined tribunals established by medical societies to review testimony by physicians who serve as expert witnesses in malpractice lawsuits. Physicians whose testimony does not satisfy the tribunals can face suspension or expulsion from the medical societies. The American Medical Association supports the practice. AMA President Donald Palmisano said, "The giving of expert testimony should be considered the practice of medicine and it should be the subject of peer review." However, Robert Peck, president of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, said that the practice appears "to be a form of intimidation of witnesses that violates the federal Civil Rights Act" and a "sort of restraint of trade that could be an antitrust violation" (Liptak, New York Times, 7/6).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.