Bill to cap medical malpractice awards likely to fail, critics say

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Legislation that has earned provider praise for proposing limits to medical malpractice awards is unlikely to gather enough support to pass the Senate, say opponents of the bill.

The Protecting Access to Care Act (H.R. 1215), which would place a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in healthcare-related lawsuits, passed the House on June 28 with a 218-210 vote. The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living applauded the bill's passage, with President and CEO Mark Parkinson remarking that “this legislation helps at a time when we need it the most.”

The Congressional Budget Office predicted that the bill would cut federal deficits by nearly $50 billion over the next decade through lowered medical liability insurance premiums and reducing healthcare use.

But while the act has earned praise from healthcare providers, it also has made enemies among Democrats for its ties to the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, as well as some Republicans who view it as federal officials overstepping their authority, Bloomberg BNA reported on Friday.

“Medical malpractice has long been the practice of states and having the federal government come in and do this was seen as a big overreach,” Remington A. Gregg, counsel for civil justice and consumer rights at the nonprofit consumer group Public Citizen, told Bloomberg.

Consumer groups have also bashed the bill for its perceived protection of poor healthcare providers, and the negative impact it could have on patients and nursing home residents. Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, told Bloomberg the bill is “unfair and discriminatory” toward healthcare consumers, and is facing significant hurdles to passing the Senate.

“It came to the Senate in a weakened state and I don't see it improving,” Doroshow said. “It passed, in our perspective, with the weakest-possible vote from Republicans.” [See McKnight's Editorial Director John O'Connor's take on the issue here.]

Legislation tracking website GovTrack.us and Skopos Labs currently predicts that the legislation has a 32% overall chance of being enacted. It now awaits consideration from the Senate Judiciary committee.