Senate Votes To Block Malpratice Legislation
The Senate on Monday voted to block two bills that would have capped noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Kellman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/8).
One bill (S 22), sponsored by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), would have capped total noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits at $750,000 and would have capped noneconomic damages for individual health care providers at $250,000.
A second bill (S 23), sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), would have capped noneconomic damages at similar levels in malpractice lawsuits filed against ob-gyns. Both bills would have allowed punitive damages only in malpractice lawsuits in which defendants acted "with malicious intent to injure the claimant" or "deliberately failed to avoid unnecessary injury" (Crowley/Schuler, CQ Today, 5/8).
In consecutive votes, both bills failed to receive the 60 votes required to end debate and allow the legislation to move to the Senate floor. The Senate voted 48-42 to end debate on the Ensign bill and 49-44 to end debate on the Santorum bill (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 5/9).
Three Republicans -- Sens. Michael Crapo (Idaho), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) -- joined Democrats to block the bills. The votes marked the fourth and fifth failed attempts in the past three years to move malpractice legislation to the Senate floor (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 5/9).
According to the Los Angeles Times, the votes indicate that malpractice legislation is "unlikely to more forward ... unless Republicans increase their numbers on Capitol Hill." In addition, the "broader debate ... appears to be shifting away from limits on jury awards ... to other sorts of reforms," such as state programs that encourage providers to apologize for medical errors and specialized medical courts, the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 5/9).
President Bush in a statement said, "I am disappointed that the Senate has yet again failed to pass real medical liability reform legislation. Junk lawsuits are driving too many good doctors out of business."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said that the bills would have helped address increased malpractice insurance premiums, which he said "are poisoning the practice of medicine" (Reuters, 5/8). Frist added, "Health care dollars should be spent on patients and not on lawyers who are abusing the system" (New York Times, 5/9).
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) criticized the bills as "unnecessary" and said they would not have addressed the "real health care crisis" (Milbank, Washington Post, 5/9).
"These two bills are put here as a result of the insurance industry," Reid said, adding, "These measures before the Senate don't represent a serious attempt to improve health care or the civil justice system in this country" (Reuters, 5/8).