House Medical-Malpractice Bill To Get More Attention After August

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OLDWICK, N.J. (BestWire) – The House has held a brief hearing on a medical-malpractice bill that seeks to limit liability in health-care lawsuits.

The bill is expected to get more attention when Congress returns from its summer break. After a couple of opening remarks, the hearing was over, said Ken Schloman, Washington counsel for the Alliance of American Insurers. The July 23 hearing was held by the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., R-Wis. “Chairman Sensenbrenner promised he would get to the bill after the August recess,” said Stephanie Walsh, a spokeswoman for Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa., sponsor of the “Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Health Care” Act. The bill would limit the number of years a plaintiff has to file a health-care liability action to ensure that claims are brought while evidence and witnesses are available (BestWire, July 22, 2002).

The HEALTH Act would allocate damages in proportion to a party’s degree of fault, Greenwood said, and allow patients to recover for economic damages such as future medical expenses and loss of future earnings. It would also set a cap on noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, of $250,000, and place limits on punitive damages at the greater of two times the amount of economic damages awarded or $250,000. Greenwood has said his bill is aimed at protecting patients’ access to care by addressing “skyrocketing” medical-malpractice insurance premiums that are hurting the health-care system. Without federal legislation to help address rising claims, liability insurers will continue leaving markets, and physicians, hospitals and other health-care providers will continue their exodus from practice, Greenwood said. The bill has more than 90 cosponsors and support from advocacy groups representing physicians, hospitals,
patients and the insurance industry.

The size of jury awards in U.S. medical-malpractice cases rose 43% from 1999 to 2000, but the good news for insurers is that plaintiffs lost 60% of cases that went to trial in 2000, according to a study by Jury Verdict Research (BestWire, April 1, 2002).

The Alliance has member companies that write medical-malpractice insurance. “They are the ones paying out the enormous settlements we’ve seen across the country,” said Deborah Sherno, an Alliance spokeswoman. “Excessive litigation forces a rise in premiums that have in turn raised the overall cost of health care to the consumer, and in some cases, even driven doctors out of particularly vulnerable specialties like obstetrics.”

But this bill, H.R. 4600, would dramatically weaken patients’ rights when people are injured by their medical providers, said Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights. Greenwood’s bill mimics California’s medical-malpractice law, which Court said has been denying victims of medical negligence in California both adequate compensation for their injuries and legal representation for legitimate claims since 1976. His remarks came during a July 17 hearing on the bill before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health.


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