Senators Introduce Bill To Revamp Medical Malpractice
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) on Thursday introduced a bill that would provide grants to 10 states to develop innovative approaches to revise their medical malpractice systems, CQ HealthBeat reports.
In a joint statement, Baucus and Enzi said that to receive grants, states would "have to show how their plans will provide prompt and fair dispute resolution, encourage early disclosure of medical errors and enhance patient safety."
According to a bill summary, "state plans may cover a geographic region, an area of health care practice or a group of health care providers and organizations."
The legislation would require the HHS secretary to review grant applications and consult with an advisory committee appointed by the comptroller general. The committee would include health care providers, patient advocates, "attorneys with relevant expertise," medical malpractice insurers, state officials and patient safety experts, according to the bill summary.
The HHS secretary also would have to help develop payment schedules for noneconomic damages and help identify avoidable injuries. Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and William "Mac" Thornberry (R-Texas) have introduced identical legislation in the House.
Baucus said that the current medical malpractice system is "broken" because of high insurance premium rates and a lack of incentives to admit medical errors and expedite resolution of claims, adding that states might have the ability to address the issue because "they are closer to the problem" than the federal government (Reichard/Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 5/24). Baucus added, "Past efforts were just frontal assaults on the current system. This is different. It's not a frontal assault" (CongressDaily, 5/24).
Cooper said that the bill -- which differs from previous, failed legislation that sought to cap noneconomic and punitive damages in malpractice lawsuits -- could end "gridlock" in Congress on the issue. He added, "Look at the progress we've made in the last 24 years on the Hill, which is zero."
AARP, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Committee for Quality Assurance, among other groups, support the legislation.
The American Medical Association, which did not endorse the bill specifically, in a statement said, "It is important to explore state-based demonstration programs to analyze whether alternative liability reforms hold potential." AMA added that "research on alternative reforms must be rigorous and experience-based to avoid unintended consequences such as lowering the burden of proof" of malpractice (CQ HealthBeat, 5/24).