Senate To Delay Votes on Health Care Legislation
Senate Republicans said that they likely will have to delay "Health Week" -- during which they plan to hold votes on medical malpractice and association health plan legislation -- from May 1 until at least May 8 because of debate on the $106.5 billion fiscal year 2006 emergency supplemental bill, CQ Today reports. According to CQ Today, the delay will force the health care bills to "compete on the crowded Senate schedule with potential legislation" on immigration, pensions and tax cuts."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said, "There is so much fluidity. I don't know" when the Senate will vote on the health care bills."
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said, "It's going to be hard. We're really getting crowded on that deadline. We will try, but I doubt very much we'll be able to get this done" (Schuler, CQ Today, 4/28).
In related news, the National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform on Friday said that the malpractice legislation, which Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) plans to introduce during "Health Week," would prompt attorneys not to take cases filed by families of nursing home patients who die because of neglect or abuse because of proposed caps on noneconomic damages, CQ HealthBeat reports (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 4/28).
The bill would cap total noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits at $750,000 and would cap noneconomic damages for individual health care providers at $250,000 (American Health Line, 4/28).
The coalition said, "When total compensation is limited to $250,000, it is often barely enough to cover the cost of bringing a lawsuit against one of the large national corporations that own most of our nursing homes."
In a report that cites 36 cases of "horrific" abuse in nursing homes, the coalition said "states rarely penalized the homes; criminal prosecutions for abuse were even rarer" and, in most cases, "the civil justice system was the only entity that held the facility responsible for their injuries" (CQ HealthBeat, 4/28).
The Senate vote on the malpractice bill "will determine whether millions of Americans continue to have access to quality medical care, or if excessive litigation and meritless lawsuits force many of our most highly trained doctors to cut back on 'high-risk,' lifesaving procedures -- or even abandon the practice of medicine," Stuart Weinstein, chair of Doctors for Medical Liability Reform, writes in a Washington Times opinion piece. The bill, which would address the "urgent issue of fixing our broken medical liability system," is based "on medical liability reform in Texas that in just two years has pulled that state back from the brink of catastrophe," Weinstein writes.
Weinstein adds, "We can see the same turn around nationally, if Congress does what's right ... and passes vitally needed medical legislation to fix our broken medical liability system" (Weinstein, Washington Times, 4/30).