Twenty-One National and Local Consumer Organizations Caution Congressional Deficit Reduction Committee Against Including Medical Malpractice Limits in Deficit Proposal

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Twenty-one major consumer and patient safety groups from around the country, whose memberships represent many millions of Americans, sent a letter today to the co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction expressing strong opposition to any proposals that would limit the legal rights of patients injured by medical malpractice.  The groups argue, “Such legal limits would not only severely harm already injured patients but also they would increase the deficit in significant ways.  Moreover, imposing federal malpractice laws on all 50 states would be an unprecedented interference with states and the work of local judges and juries.”

The groups signing the letter are: Alliance for Justice, Alliance for Safety Awareness for Patients (ASAP), Center for Justice & Democracy, Connecticut Center for Patient Safety, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, Consumers Advancing Patient Safety (CAPS), Consumers Union, Mothers Against Medical Error, MRSA Survivors Network, New Hampshire Patient Voices, Patient Safety America, Public Citizen, Sepsis Alliance, South Carolina Voices for Patient Safety (SCVPS), Texas Watch, The Coalition for Patient's Rights, The Empowered Patient Coalition, The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care, and WoodyMatters.

The letter states that the Congressional Budget Office put budget savings for liability limits, such as federal “caps” on damages for injured patients, at a paltry 0.4 percent.  At the same time, the group notes that CBO admits “the U.S. death rate could increase by 0.2 percent, killing another 4,000 people each year.”  Moreover, CBO failed to consider “new financial burdens on the government” should these limits become law.  For example, they note that limiting liability means “less accountable and more unsafe hospitals, and with accompanying increases in cost and physician utilization inherent in caring for newly maimed patients.”  Moreover, patients unable to “obtain compensation from the culpable party through the tort system … may be forced to turn elsewhere for compensation, typically taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.”  And without lawsuits, “Medicare and Medicaid will lose funds that the government would otherwise be able to recoup” through liens and subrogation interests.  Neither CBO nor the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Bowles-Simpson Commission) considered any of these added costs in their analyses.

The groups also note that federal medical malpractice limits would “explicitly preempt state law, denying states the freedom to create their own approach to malpractice liability and to decide what in the best interests of the people in their states.”  They conclude, “your committee should focus on reducing the deficit, not on increasing the burdens on taxpayers, encroaching on states’ rights, and insulating negligent providers from accountability. We strongly urge your committee to exclude medical liability restrictions from your forthcoming deficit reduction recommendations.”

A copy of the letter can be found here:

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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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