GOP Proposes New Limits to Medical Malpractice Cases

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 24, 2017

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A bill now before the US House of Representatives would limit “non-economic” damages in medical malpractice cases to $250,000.

As NPR reports,

Non-economic damages cover losses that are hard to put a dollar amount on — such as suffering, loss of a limb, pain, and loss of companionship. In addition, medical malpractice awards may include monetary damages to cover medical costs and loss of future wages. Sometimes punitive damages may be awarded as well, as punishment for reckless or other harmful behavior.

About half of US states already impose a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.

The proposed federal cap would override any state law that prohibited such a cap.

Some state courts have struck down caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, finding that they violated the equal protection provisions of the state constitutions.

AHCA

The medical malpractice bill, H.R. 1215, is among a number of proposed legal changes in conjunction with the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

The Republic-controlled House is trying to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA — also known as “Obamacare”) with the AHCA.

The Senate has its own version of an Obamacare replacement.

As CNN reports,

[the] nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that if the Senate bill becomes law, 22 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2026 than if Obamacare remained in place.

23 million fewer people would be uninsured under the House version.

Lower Costs?

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that H.R. 1215 would lower health care costs by reducing premiums for medical liability insurance, thus reducing costs for healthcare providers.

The bill would also impose a three-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits, or a one-year limit starting from the time a consumer discovered — or should have discovered — a medical malpractice injury (such as a surgical sponge left inside a patient’s body).

The amount of attorney fees that lawyers can recover for taking on medical malpractice cases would also be limited under the bill.  This might discourage lawyers from taking on such cases and leave some injured consumers without legal recourse.

According to the CBO, savings would be almost $50 billion over 10 years.

Immunizing Doctors

However, according to an op-ed in the Huffington Post by Joanne Doroshow, the  Executive Director of the Center for Justice & Democracy (CJ&D) at New York Law School,

H.R. 1215 would quite literally immunize the health care industry for most kinds of misconduct, from horrendous medical malpractice in hospitals, to nursing home abuse and neglect, to sexual assault by doctors.

Doroshow says the bill would also limit the liability of companies that produce drugs or medical devices that turn out to be harmful.

Americans for Insurance Reform, a collection of almost 100 consumer and public interest groups representing more than 50 million consumers, has published studies that suggest medical malpractice claims are not to blame for high health care costs.

According to the CJ&D

When adjusted for medical care inflation, both premiums and claims per physician are currently at their lowest level in four decades.

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