A Democrat-led filibuster resulted in the defeat of a malpractice reform bill for the third time in a year. The final tally, 49 in favor to 48 against, fell short of the 60 votes needed to bring the bill up for vote in the Senate. The legislation would have limited noneconomic damages to $250,000 in medical malpractice cases against OB/GYNs and trauma doctors, similar to another Senate bill that died earlier this year, also because of a Democrat-led filibuster. A broader malpractice reform bill was defeated last year.
The result of the latest vote was expected, but debate isn't likely to end. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) recently vowed to keep bringing the issue before the Senate until a malpractice reform bill passes. And the American Medical Association has made malpractice reform a priority, saying that 19 states are in a "full-blown medical liability crisis." On Tuesday consumer group Public Citizen accused the AMA of using "scare tactics" and challenged the claim that access to trauma care is declining because specialists are leaving states with high insurance costs. Public Citizen said five of the states identified by the AMA as being in crisis -- Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New York and Wyoming -- rank among the top 10 nationally in trauma centers per 1 million people. The AMA responded that it's claims are based on fact. -- by Tony Fong and Michael Romano