Senate To Hold Cloture Vote To End Debate on Limited Medical Malpractice Bill
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday plans to hold a cloture vote to limit debate on a bill (S 2061) that would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits against OB/GYNs at $250,000, Congressional Quarterly Weekly reports. The 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. According to Congressional Quarterly Weekly, the bill is part of a new Republican "piecemeal approach" on malpractice legislation undertaken this year after the Senate defeated a broader bill last year (Schuler, Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 2/14). Senate Democrats last year blocked a vote on a broader Republican-sponsored bill (S 11) that 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, 7/10/03). Supporters of the new bill have promoted the legislation as a women's health issue. They maintain that high damage awards in malpractice lawsuits have forced OB/GYNs, who pay some of the highest malpractice insurance premiums among medical specialists, to leave the profession and, as a result, have limited women's access to care. However, Senate Democrats attribute the problem to malpractice insurers that increase premiums to compensate for investment losses, not high damage awards in malpractice lawsuits (Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 2/14).
According to CongressDaily, Senate Democrats predict that the cloture vote to limit debate on the new bill "will not be significantly different from the outcome" of a similar vote held last July, when Republicans failed to obtain the 60 votes required for cloture (Heil/Stanton, CongressDaily, 2/18). In addition, "even if cloture is invoked, quick passage" of the legislation remains unlikely because Senate Democrats plan to attach unrelated amendments to the legislation, CongressDaily reports (Davis/Wegner, CongressDaily, 2/19). Frist, in a speech to physicians and health officials at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis on Thursday, predicted that the legislation would not pass. He added that Senate Republicans would introduce similar bills in the next six weeks that apply to trauma surgeons and rural physicians (Sullivan, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 2/20).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.