In late February 2017, the House Judiciary Committee voted 18-17 to pass the "Protecting Access to Care Act.” The legislation placed a nationwide cap on "pain and suffering" damages that patients can receive in medical malpractice lawsuits.
The legislation also gives immunity to drug companies in cases in which patients were harmed by FDA-approved prescriptions.
The bill applies to patients served through a federal program, subsidy, or benefit, such as Medicare, COBRA, health savings plans, or Medicaid. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced the bill. The bill caps non-economic damages at $250,000 and puts an end to attorneys' contingency fees. The cap affects people not in the workforce such as elderly or children.
Advocates of the bill claimed that physicians and hospitals are deterred from practicing because of malpractice insurance costs. The legislation makes it harder for patients to go after doctors’ money. By limiting the costs, the bill increases healthcare access for patients.
Defensive medicine increases healthcare spending. Examples of defensive medicine include a CT scan for every child that bumps their head, or an x-ray for every broken arm when an x-ray may not guide treatment. This unnecessary care accounts for $650 billion in costs each year.
Several amendments to the bill that allow exceptions for specific cases such as rape victims, wrong-patient surgery, nursing home injuries, irreversible injuries such as doctors leaving spare tools in bodies during surgeries, and intentionally harmed patients were rejected.
An amendment Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the committee chairman, introduced to ensure that juries not informed about a physician's medical liability insurance status will not be privy to a patient's health insurance status, was approved.
Many states already limit awards paid by individual providers. The bill preempts state malpractice laws that are plaintiff friendly and allows doctors to focus on patients rather than defend their professional decisions and reputations in courtrooms where most claims may have no merit.
The bill doesn’t limit recovery of economic damages. Economic damages include lost wages, past and future medical expenses, and out-of-pocket costs for victims of medical negligence.
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