President Obama took both Republicans and normally supportive patients' rights advocates by surprise this week when he voiced support for a national limit on medical malpractice lawsuits in his State of the Union speech.
The president's words breathed new life into the often discussed but never enacted Republican initiative. The week before Obama spoke, House Republicans held a hearing to decry the cost of medical malpractice lawsuits, and they introduced a bill to set a $250,000 limit on pain and suffering damages caused by "any health care goods or services or any medical product."
Obama's comment upset supporters who had specifically asked the White House last year to avoid the word "frivolous" when talking about suits by injured patients.
"We said to the White House staff, 'Please do not use words like 'frivolous lawsuits,' because these people have suffered devastating injuries," said Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy in New York. Last year, she brought to the White House several families whose children had suffered brain damage or crippling injuries because of medical mistakes. Under the law in California, they could receive no more than $250,000 for a life-time of pain and suffering. "To have the president use that term was very troubling," she said.
The House proposal is modeled on laws in California and Texas, although it would go considerably further by limiting damages for injuries caused by drugs or medical devices.
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