A medical-malpractice bill in the the U.S. House of Representatives would limit noneconomic damages to $878,000 in 2005 and tie future limits to the rate of inflation; punish lawyers who file meritless claims; and establish a database on malpractice for patients' use. Companion legislation has not been introduced in the Senate. Under the House bill, introduced by Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), lawyers found to have filed a third meritless lawsuit would be suspended from practice for at least one year. The database, to be run by HHS, would contain information on disciplinary actions against doctors, complaints filed by patients and malpractice claims paid by insurers on behalf of doctors. Malpractice reform has been a top healthcare issue for President Bush. Recent Republican-backed malpractice reform bills, which failed in Congress, would have limited noneconomic damages to $250,000.
Meanwhile, state efforts on malpractice reform continue. The Illinois General Assembly is expected to vote shortly on a compromise bill that would cap noneconomic damages at $500,000 for physicians and $1 million for hospitals. The bill would put doctors' malpractice records online, prevent apologies to patients from being used in court and set standards for expert witnesses. A spokeswoman said Gov. Rod Blagojevich would sign the bill. -- by Tony Fong and Andis Robeznieks