Provider groups hope to get a second chance in the Senate on legislation to limit their liability in malpractice cases after Republican leaders stripped a malpractice-related provision from a bill to reform tort law.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said the Senate will schedule a vote later this year on the malpractice reform measure, which would limit providers' liability for noneconomic damages to their share of the blame.
A similar bill already has passed the House but was bogged down two weeks ago in the Senate after it was added to the product-liability reform measure on a 53-47 vote (May 8, p. 3) .
The amended bill, however, twice failed to get the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster, prompting Senate leaders to remove all amendments that did not have support of enough lawmakers. The stripped-down bill passed last week on a 61-37 vote.
But a lobbyist for a coalition of provider groups said he was optimistic that malpractice reform could get enough votes when called up later this year.
"Between those who voted with us last week and those who voted yes (on product-liability reform), I think we can get 60," said Frederick Graefe of the Washington law firm of Baker & Hostetler. "I think the prospects are very bright."
The House passed a version of the bill that would limit providers' liability for noneconomic damages-"pain and suffering" damages-and also would cap those damages at $250,000.
Those provisions, in theory, would be included in the bill that emerges from a House-Senate conference committee that now must meet to reconcile differences between the two measures, although to do so once again would endanger passage of the bill in the Senate.