Senate Cloture Vote on Malpractice Legislation Expected To Fail
A Senate cloture vote on Tuesday to limit debate on a bill (S 2061) that would cap noneconomic damages at $250,000 in lawsuits against obstetricians/gynecologists is expected to fall short of the necessary 60 votes, CongressDaily reports (Davis et al., CongressDaily, 2/23). The malpractice legislation, sponsored by Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.), also would cap punitive damages in malpractice lawsuits against OB/GYNs at $250,000 or twice the amount of economic damages, whichever is higher. The OB/GYN bill comes 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 (California Healthline, 2/20). Last year, Senate Republicans fell 11 votes short of the 60 votes needed to limit debate, and Democratic aides say that Republicans have "picked up few, if any, votes by slimming down the bill," the Washington Post reports. Republicans pared down last year's bill in an effort to gain support for malpractice caps "specialty by specialty," starting with obstetrics and gynecology, according to the Post. Senate Republicans have tried to frame the bill as a women's health issue, arguing that because OB/GYNs are most likely to be sued and pay the highest malpractice premiums, physicians may leave the practice, thereby limiting women's access to care. However, Democrats say insurers are responsible for the high malpractice premiums, adding that it would be "discriminatory to cap damages for women while leaving men free to sue without limit for medical mistakes," the Post reports. Senate Republicans also are considering plans to cap damages for emergency department physicians and other specialists. Regardless of whether the bill passes, Republican strategists say the GOP could get credit for trying to pass the bills, "especially if they can portray Democrats as obstructionists," the Post reports (Dewar, Washington Post, 2/22).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Monday reported on the bill. The segment includes comments by Marion McCartney, director of professional services for the American College of Nurse-Midwives, Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, and Donald Palmisano, president of the American Medical Association (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 2/23). 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.