Providers won a major victory last week when the House passed measures to significantly limit their exposure in medical malpractice cases.
The measures were attached as amendments to a broader bill designed to reform the entire civil suit system. The House was expected to pass that bill late last week. The measure has not been scheduled for Senate action.
By a vote of 247-171, the House put a $250,000 limit on noneconomic damages-also known as "pain and suffering" damages-for all medical malpractice cases. Punitive damages, intended to punish and deter misconduct, also were limited to $250,000.
The House also eliminated what attorneys call "joint and several" liability in all civil cases. The vote on that change was 263-164. Currently, hospitals often end up paying the bulk of damage awards-even though they may have been found to be only slightly to blame-because they have the money to cover a big judgment. Eliminating that rule would mean hospitals would be liable only for an amount proportionate to their blame.
Provider groups, including the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association, lobbied hard for the malpractice amendments. Opponents of the measures, including the Washington-based advocacy group Public Citizen, decried the changes, contending they would lead to further suffering for patients and their families.
"This is a great victory for proponents of health system reform," said Frederick Graefe, a Washington healthcare lobbyist. "It shows Congress is willing to take on the tough problems in healthcare reform.'