House committee approves bill to cap medical malpractice damages

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A bill that would cap certain medical malpractice payments at $250,000 nationwide was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The “Protecting Access to Care Act,” introduced last week, would place limits on the pain and suffering damages that nursing homes, hospitals and physicians pay in medical malpractice lawsuits. The legislation does not place caps on economic damages such as lost wages or medical expenses. Some states have legislation already in place capping the awards that can be paid by individual providers.

Healthcare organizations applauded the legislation for helping reduce time spent by providers defending themselves “against claims that turn out, in most cases, to be without merit,” STAT reported.

Democrats and patient advocacy groups slammed the bill's author, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), as putting providers' interests ahead of patients. The legislation's introduction caught several people off guard, according to some critics.

“We expected something in the context of the Affordable Care Act replacement,” Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, told STAT. “But not a standalone medical malpractice-nursing home-drug industry bill. We were fairly shocked.”

Some Democrats introduced amendments to the proposal, including one that would keep legal protections for nursing home residents in place. Those amendments were rejected. King's proposal also gives immunity to drug companies should patients sustain harm from U.S. Food & Drug Administration-approved drugs.

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday also voted to approve the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act (H.R. 372), which would repeal an antitrust exemption for health insurers that applies to anticompetitive conduct such as price fixing and market allocation.