Hospitals applauded a new law that will create a national database on medical errors and shield participating providers from liability, a protection that the healthcare industry long has contended is essential to a viable errors-reporting system. Meanwhile, one of the American Medical Association's legislative priorities -- a federal limit on noneconomic damages in medical-malpractice cases -- gained some ground, passing the House 230-194 Thursday. There is no Senate companion bill. The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act, signed by President Bush this morning, requires HHS to designate private patient-safety organizations to collect voluntary error reports from providers, analyze the data and recommend steps for improvement. Provider groups said the legal protections eliminate barriers to reporting errors and ultimately will lead to better patient care. The law allows providers to focus on "solving problems rather than worrying about lawsuits," Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said in a news release. The act passed the House Wednesday and the Senate last week.
The House medical-malpractice bill, supported by the White House, would place a $250,000 limit on noneconomic damages and would generally require plaintiffs to sue within three years of the alleged injury or one year after discovery of the alleged injury. It would not cap economic damages. The House has passed similar legislation repeatedly, only to see the effort stall in the Senate. -- by Tony Fong