Attack on Patients’ Legal Rights Nears House Vote Over Outcries of Consumer and Public Interest Groups

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Washington, DC – A House bill (H.R. 5) seeking draconian federal limits on malpractice accountability would raise overall health care costs and leave families harmed by medical negligence with no recourse, said Consumer Watchdog.

A letter to Congressional leaders signed by Consumer Watchdog and 21 other prominent public interest groups called the legislation “an outrageously broad proposal that covers not only cases involving medical malpractice, but also cases involving unsafe drugs and nursing home abuse and neglect.” It called on Congress to “focus on improving patient safety and reducing deaths and injuries, not insulating negligent providers from accountability, harming patients and saddling taxpayers with the cost, as H.R. 5 would do.”

Click here to see the full letter.

The medical malpractice measure is part of a package eliminating a portion of the federal Accountable Care Act, the Independent Payment Advisory Board. Eliminating the oversight body would raise health care costs by an estimated $3 billion. Backers claim the medical malpractice limits would replace those savings, an improbable outcome according to Consumer Watchdog.

“Medical liability limits will increase, not decrease, overall health care costs by burdening Medicare and Medicaid with the cost of care for patients who are injured by negligent doctors, but cannot hold them accountable,” said Carmen Balber, Washington Director for Consumer Watchdog.

The letter outlined the harm and expense of medical malpractice which would go largely unpunished across the nation if the measure passes. The letter said:

“Medical malpractice is already at epidemic levels in this country. It has been over a decade since publication of the Institute of Medicine’s seminal study “To Err is Human” finding up to 98,000 deaths in hospitals due to medical errors. Experts agree that there has been no meaningful reduction in medical errors in the United States since then. For example:

·      About 1 in 7 hospital Medicare patients experience a medical error, 44 percent of which are preventable. These errors cost Medicare $4.4 billion a year.
·      Medical errors occur in one-third of hospital admissions, as much as ten times more common than previously estimated.
·      Lost lives and disabilities caused by medical error cost between $393 billion and $958 billion in 2006, equivalent to 18-45% of total US health-care spending.”

The letter noted that H.R. 5, which would cap non-economic damages at $250,000 per case, would do particular damage to  omen and families. Women and families are most likely to suffer substantial but noneconomic harm from malpractice—for instance in cases of reproductive harm or the death of a young child.
Malpractice liability limits and insurance regulation in California

The medical malpractice liability limits in H.R. 5 are modeled after a California law that failed to reduce malpractice insurance premiums or overall health costs, the purported aim of the federal bill, said Consumer Watchdog.

Medical malpractice insurance premiums increased 450% in California in the thirteen years after liability limits were enacted.

California voters approved an insurance rate regulation law in 1988. In the first three years after the insurance regulation law was approved, malpractice premiums fell 20% and then stabilized even as premiums across the country continued to fluctuate.

The California Department of Insurance announced this month that it saved doctors, dentists and other medical providers $19 million on their medical malpractice insurance premiums, using Proposition 103’s prior approval rate regulation authority to reduce unjustified premiums. Proposition 103 also allows any member of the public to intervene and challenge excessive rate increases. Consumer Watchdog used this intervenor process to prevent $66 million in unjustified rate hikes for doctors and other medical professionals from 2002 to 2005.

For more information on insurance rate regulation and medical liability limits in California, visit Consumer Watchdog’s medical malpractice resource page:

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Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, CA. Find us on the web at:

Carmen Balber
Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She spent four years directing the group’s Washington, D.C. office where she advocated for key health insurance market reforms that were ultimately enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

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