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Democratic Congressman Joins GOP to Reform Nation's Medical Liability Laws

Source: The Hill

Posted on 26 Jan 2011

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A Democratic congressman has signed on to a GOP effort to reform the nation’s medical liability laws, a highly partisan issue that has become a major part of Republicans’ plans to replace the healthcare reform law.?? The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011 – numbered H.R. 5 – would set limits on settlement amounts, deadlines for making a claim and standards for defining malpractice.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and David Scott (D-Ga.) and backed by the American Medical Association, caps non-economic damages, such as emotional distress, at $250,000; bans claims more than three years after an injury occurs; sets requirements for determining punitive damages; and makes other reforms. “Americans face many health care challenges including high annual insurance premium increases and too few doctors,” Scott said in a statement.

“Our legislation focuses on expenses that doctors face in higher medical malpractice insurance premiums and the expensive defensive medicine they practice as a hedge against liability.”

Republicans have positioned medical practice reform as a significant way to reduce costs in the healthcare system. Last week, chairmen of House panels tasked with replacing the healthcare reform law pointed to an October 2009 Congressional Budget Office estimate that said tort reform would save the federal government $54 billion over 10 years. “That’s a huge chunk right there,” House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) said last week. However, Democrats are largely opposed to tort reform, which was excluded from the sweeping healthcare overhaul enacted last year.

The American Association for Justice, which represents the nation's trial lawyers, came out strongly against the bill on Monday.

“This bill is a cruel joke to the 98,000 people who die every year from preventable medical errors, and the countless more that are injured," the group said. "Eliminating any incentive for health care providers to focus on safety and reduce errors will do nothing to improve our nation’s health care system.”