House Republicans passed a deeply flawed and dangerous federal medical liability bill that limits injured patient’s ability to pursue claims against negligent providers as their assault on health care reform and patient protections continue.
H.R. 5, misnamed the Protecting Access to Healthcare (PATH) Act, is actually a combo bill that combines restrictive medical liability legislation in the Help, Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Health Care Act and a second bill that would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the portion of the Affordable Care Act created to curb Medicare spending.
The “tort reform” portion of the bill would shield nursing homes, hospitals, insurance companies, physicians, and physicians and pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers from legal consequence of their negligence. This includes a cap on non-economic damages at $250,000, giving medical device manufacturers and drug companies immunity from punitive damages.
“In blocking patients from seeking compensation from negligent parties that injure them, this bill will force them to turn to taxpayers for aid,” said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel with Public Citizen. “If Congress was truly interested in enacting cost-saving measures, it would focus on reducing the thousands of injuries and deaths each year caused by preventable medical errors, which a government report said adds billions of dollars per year to the cost of U.S. health care.”
The bill also drastically shortening the time a patient has to file a lawsuit for their injuries and limiting fees for patients’ attorneys while providing no limits on the health industry’s legal fees.
Medical malpractice claims are complicated to prosecute and usually require the help of medical experts to prove liability. Limiting attorneys fees for plaintiffs attorneys while letting industry defense attorneys the ability to bill with abandon simply means fewer attorneys will be able to help injured parties.
And that’s precisely the point.
Of course, Republicans pushed these restrictions as ways to cut costs and create jobs. And of course they are wrong.
As health care costs rose over the past decade, medical malpractice litigation and costs associated dropped to their lowest levels on record. Meanwhile though, the number of patients injured by medical errors remained at an unacceptable level. An April 2011 study showed that medical errors or adverse events occur in nearly one in three hospital admissions.
Instead of dealing with these realities though House Republicans have decided to take away the ability of injured parties to hold industry responsible.
Sounds a lot like their approach to Wall Street “reform”, doesn’t it?
Photo from srqpix via flickr.