GOP Medical Malpractice Bill Draws Bipartisan Fire from State Legislators

Congressional Quarterly HealthBeat
Wednesday, April 6, 2011

State legislators from both political parties Wednesday came out strongly against a U.S. House Republican measure that would set national standards for medical malpractice, including a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages.

"Federal medical malpractice legislation inappropriately seeks to preempt various areas of state law," said the letter from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Democrats released the letter as the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a hearing on medical malpractice legislation (HR 5) that the full committee will mark up. The bill, which has already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee, would set a statute of limitations of three years for malpractice claims, limit punitive damages and restrict attorney fees.

Republicans control the majority of state legislatures and made wide gains in the 2010 election. The letter, however, showed clear resistance from state Republicans to the House GOP's plans to forge ahead on an issue that's usually left to the states. The objection poses another hurdle for a bill that even its own supporters concede won't make much headway in a Senate controlled by Democrats.

Medical malpractice legislation, however, remains a way for Republicans who back repeal of the health care law to respond to Democratic arguments that the GOP is not presenting any of its own proposals on health care or attempting to reduce costs.

Another witness, though, Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice and Democracy, which opposes the bill, disputed the gains in Texas and said the state still suffers from doctor shortages, especially in rural areas. The cap on non-economic damages has had an impact on the filing of cases involving children, the elderly and the poor, and Texas lawyers accept fewer cases, she said. Doroshow also said medical malpractice premiums nationally are stable or dropping and are nearly the lowest they've been in 30 years. Premiums have gone down whether or not states adopted medical malpractice laws, she said.


For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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