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Bill Proposing Medical

Bill causes rift in House of Representatives

A bill currently making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives is generating a fair amount of concern from advocates for patients' rights. Opponents of the bill claim H.R. 5 - the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act of 2011 (Act) - aims to make it harder for victims of medical malpractice to bring suits and lowers the accountability of insurance and pharmaceutical companies towards patients.

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In a strongly worded letter to Lamar Smith, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, a group of national and state advocates of patient rights led by the Center for Justice and Democracy set out a laundry list of reasons they opposed the bill.

Specific proposed provisions of the act the letter argues against include:

  • Restricting noneconomic damages
  • Restricting punitive damages
  • Shortening the statute of limitations
  • Allowing insurance companies to pay compensation in structured installments

The authors argue that noneconomic damages should not be limited, as they can be severe - for example, if a doctor's negligence prevents a young woman from ever having children. The authors also argue the stringent new restrictions on punitive damages do not hold insurance and pharmaceutical companies accountable, even for gross negligence.

The statute of limitations would be reduced to one year after the injury was, or should have been, discovered. Diseases that are slow to manifest would unjustly prevent victims from evenentering the courtroom, the letter argues. Finally, opponents of the structured settlement portion of the bill claim insurance companies would benefit unfairly from being able to sit on a pile of money owed to the victim while earning interest for themselves.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the bill would reduce health care costs by one-half of a percent, which the letter dismisses as "likely a significant overestimate." The CBO also projected that as many as 4,000 more people could die each year from medical mistakes if the proposed legislation ultimately passes.

Medical malpractice already governed by states

The National Conference of State Legislatures opposes the bill because of its preemption of state law. It concluded in its own letter to Congressman Smith that federal malpractice reform is unnecessary because states have their own laws governing medical malpractice, many of which already have laws similar to those proposed in the federal bill.

The "tort reform" discussion is alive and well this legislative session. If you have questions about medical malpractice, or if you have been injured by a medical error, contact a local attorney right away.

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