Test Votes Planned for Malpractice, AHP Bills
Senate Democrats and Republicans this week "will square off" over the "different approaches to improving the country's health care system," CongressDaily reports (Wodele, CongressDaily, 5/5). As part of "Health Week," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Monday has arranged a procedural test vote for two bills that would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits (Angle, CQ Today, 5/5).
One bill (S 22), sponsored by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), would cap total noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits at $750,000 and would cap noneconomic damages for individual health care providers at $250,000.
A second bill (S 23), sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), would cap noneconomic damages at similar levels in malpractice lawsuits filed against ob-gyns (American Health Line, 5/4).
On Tuesday, Frist has arranged a procedural vote for a bill (S 1955) sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) that would allow small businesses and trade associations to partner to offer group health plans on a statewide or nationwide basis. The procedural test votes, which Frist requested on Friday, seek to invoke cloture to end debate and allow a Senate floor vote on the bills.
In 2004, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on malpractice legislation, and Santorum said that currently no Senate Democrats support the malpractice bills under consideration this week.
Senate Democrats have said that they might consider a floor vote on the AHP bill, provided that they can hold an up-or-down vote on substitute legislation.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) criticized Health Week as a "public relations gimmick" (Angle, CQ Today, 5/5). Reid added, "This is really a mini-debate. A real health care week would fix Medicare problems and extend the May 15 deadline" for enrollment in the prescription drug benefit.
Senate Democrats also recommended consideration of legislation on stem cell research and the issue of the uninsured (CongressDaily, 5/5).
In related news, the board of America's Health Insurance Plans remains divided over whether to support the AHP bill, CQ HealthBeat reports.
Although AHIP has taken no official position on the legislation, group president Karen Ignagni "has been pushing members who oppose the measure to find a way to support it in order to curry favor" with Enzi, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, according to CQ HealthBeat.
An AHIP board member said, "Their logic is that Enzi is chairman of the committee and AHIP and its membership will have more issues before his committee, so we must accommodate Enzi" (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 5/5).
The legislation has received "some of the most intense lobbying by health groups in years," CQ Today reports. Opponents include a coalition of disease advocacy groups and AARP, and supporters include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (Schuler, CQ Today, 5/5).