The House just bet on tort reform. When will they ever learn?

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

The long-term care field quickly embraced last week's House vote to enact some long-overdue tort reform.

The approved measure would place limits on awards and attorneys fees for medical malpractice cases, along with a three-year deadline for filing lawsuits. By extension, it could also free up provider funds for things such as additional caregivers.

In the words of Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living: “This legislation helps at a time when we need it the most.”

He's absolutely right. Too bad the measure has just about zero chance of passing.

Industry veterans have been to this rodeo many times before. And the scenario is almost always the same. Time and time again, a House measure to limit the damage goes forward, only to languish or be rejected outright in the Senate.

For this all-too-familiar kabuki dance, we can largely thank the bar lobby's stranglehold on the upper chamber. And once again, its minions are arguing for this year's version to be rejected.

“If this bill becomes law, victims and their loved ones will be unable to hold those responsible accountable. Without accountability, every American is at risk,” said Julie Braman Kane, president of the American Association for Justice, in a statement. She went on to claim that more than 400,000 Americans “lose their lives due to preventable medical errors.”

So what we have here is a classic standoff.

I suppose anything's possible in Congress. But in reality, very few bills ever make it to the president's desk. And there's little reason to believe that this year's tort reform legislation will buck the trend.

Which helps explain why the field has become so enamored with pre-dispute resolution agreements. They offer the same primary benefit (avoiding runaway jury awards), without the hassle of Congressional approval.

The smart play for operators is to push for these whenever and wherever possible. Not surprisingly, that appears to be exactly what's happening.

As for when tort reform might actually occur? It'll probably be around the time pigs are seen flying around frozen snowballs in hell.

Email John O'Connor at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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