After passing two key committees last week, a medical liability reform bill is scheduled for floor debate in the House of Representatives on Thursday.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the HEALTH Act (HR 5) on March 4 and the Energy and Commerce Committee passed it on March 6 with no substantive changes.
The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Healthcare Act of 2003, introduced by Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits at $250,000. It would require suits to be brought within three years of the date of injury, with some exceptions. The bill would pre-empt state laws unless states offer greater protection for healthcare providers from liability, loss or damages.
"Excessive litigation is driving up healthcare costs, forcing doctors to leave their practices, causing hospitals to shut down and leaving many patients without access to medical services," Energy and Commerce Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) said in an address to the AMA last week.
"Some analysts are telling us that liability reforms could lead to well over $50 billion per year in healthcare savings, without adverse effects for patients," Tauzin said. "That is more than enough money to fund a prescription drug benefit for seniors or provide health insurance coverage to the uninsured. This fact alone should prod members to seriously address the issue."
The AMA and numerous other medical professional organizations strongly endorse the measure. It has 122 bipartisan sponsors in the House but is expected to face stiff opposition from Democrats in the Senate.
Opponents of the limit on damages for pain and suffering say children, homemakers and retirees who have no income and are injured by malpractice could be unfairly treated because it would be difficult for them to prove economic damages.