The traditionally anti-malpractice-reform House Judiciary Committee may not act on the issue before the House leadership drafts its own healthcare reform plan.
And while that may be good news for malpractice reform advocates, they still have a tough fight ahead of them in both chambers of Congress.
The House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over malpractice issues, has two weeks to complete its work after the House Ways and Means Committee formally files its plan, which was expected late last week.
But lobbyists close to the matter say Committee Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Texas) isn't expected to act on the issue.
"Even if they do take it up, they won't do anything constructive," said Charles Huntington, director of the Washington Office of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "We would be better off if they leave it to (the House leadership)."
Neither of the two House committees that passed a healthcare reform plan addressed the malpractice issue. In the Senate, both committees that passed a reform plan included some malpractice reform measures, such as procedures for alternative dispute resolution and limits on attorneys' fees. Only the Senate Finance Committee has passed the most controversial of all malpractice reform issues, the cap on non-economic damages. The Finance Committee bill includes a $250,000 award cap.
But sidestepping the Judiciary Committee by no means assures a victory for malpractice reform advocates.
"If the House leadership is planning a strategy of going for 218 Democratic votes, then a cap (on non-economic damage rewards) probably won't be included since most Democrats haven't traditionally been in favor of it," said one Democratic House aide.
Lobbyists say it's also unlikely that Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) will include a cap on non-economic damages in his plan.