Congress' malpractice reform debate moved to the Senate last week with consideration of a bill that did not include the limits on noneconomic damages passed by the House.
The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last week heard testimony on malpractice reform legislation that would cap punitive damages. The bill also aims to make defendants responsible for paying only the share of noneconomic and punitive damages equal to their share of the blame in cases with multiple defendants.
Sponsored by committee Chairwoman Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and two other senators, the bill is scheduled for committee debate this week.
But malpractice reform advocates fault the Senate bill because it does not incorporate a House-passed pro- vision that limited defendants' payments to $250,000 for noneconomic damages such as "pain and suffering."
That provision was added to the House's legal reform bill only during floor debate, which is the last chance for the bill to be amended.
Congressional supporters of the noneconomic damages cap were optimistic that such a provision would also be added to the Senate bill. They urged physicians attending an American Medical Association legislative conference in Washington to lobby senators in favor of it.
But malpractice reform lobbyist Frederick Graefe said that if the legislation includes the cap on noneconomic damages, it's sure to lose in the Senate.
According to Graefe, the Kassebaum bill "is the only opportunity this year to have comprehensive malpractice reform considered on the floor of the Senate."