Senate Cloture Vote on Medical Malpractice Legislation Fails
Senate Republicans on Wednesday failed to close debate on their latest medical malpractice bill (S 2207), which would cap damages in lawsuits against OB/GYNs and emergency department and trauma center personnel, the AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Senators voted 49-48 to attempt to overcome the threat of a Democratic filibuster and bring the bill to the floor but failed to reach the 60 votes needed to close debate (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/8). The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.), would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits against emergency workers and OB/GYNs at $250,000 (California Healthline, 4/7). The bill would also cap punitive damages at $250,000 or two times the amount of economic damages awarded, the Washington Post reports (Dewar, Washington Post, 4/8). The bill would not cap economic damages. In February, senators failed to reach cloture on a similar bill (S 2061) -- that would have capped noneconomic damages at $250,000 in malpractice lawsuits against OB/GYNs. Senate Democrats last year blocked a broader bill (S 11) that would have capped noneconomic damages at $250,000 in malpractice lawsuits against physicians, HMOs, pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies (California Healthline, 4/7).
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has said he will work to bring a medical malpractice bill to the floor every two months "until the impasse is broken," CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 4/7). "We are going to keep bringing this issue back because the crisis is getting worse," Frist said (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/8). According to Republican leaders, the next bill the Senate will consider would cap damages for OB/GYNs and emergency personnel, as well as for providers working in underserved urban and rural communities. By repeatedly introducing different versions of the malpractice legislation, Republicans intend to "sway voters to the position that high malpractice awards lead to high malpractice premiums, which increase the cost of health care and might drive specialists out of business," CQ Today reports. "This is very much an election-year issue. The strategy is to keep the issue visible," Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said that high medical malpractice rates are a "serious problem," but added, "When (constituents) hear both sides of it, they feel, as I do, that caps aren't the answer" (Schuler, CQ Today, 4/7). Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said future malpractice measures are "doomed to failure," CongressDaily reports. "Nothing's going to change," he said (CongressDaily, 4/7). Republicans "hop[e] to embarrass Democrats on the issue even if they cannot win enough votes to alter the results," the Post reports (Washington Post, 4/8). Some analysts say the medical malpractice debate is "lost on many voters, and efforts to lower drug prices may have a greater impact on public opinion," CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 4/7).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.