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Thread: House OKs Limits on Malpractice Awards

  1. #1
    Senior Member Max's Avatar
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    House OKs Limits on Malpractice Awards

    House OKs Limits on Malpractice Awards
    Thu Mar 13, 6:02 PM ET Add Health - AP to My Yahoo!


    By JANELLE CARTER, Associated Press Writer

    WASHINGTON - Responding to doctors' complaints about soaring insurance costs, House Republicans pushed through legislation to limit jury awards in malpractice cases.


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    By a 229-196 vote, the House passed a bill Thursday that would cap noneconomic damages, such as compensation for loss of a limb or sight, at $250,000. The bill would not limit compensation for medical bills, funeral expenses and other economic damages.


    States could pass legislation to exceed the bill's cap, but would have to have some sort of limit in place.


    In the Senate, where lawmakers from both parties have expressed reservations about the limits, the bill faces an uncertain future.


    "This is a huge day for those of us fighting for medical justice," said the bill's author, Rep. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa.


    Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., said the House "stood up for the hidden victims" and so should the Senate.


    "They are the doctor who has invested his whole life into helping others only to be forced into retirement because he can't afford his medical liability premiums, or the pregnant woman who wants to have a natural childbirth but is forced to undergo a C-section instead because her ob-gyn doesn't want to take on the risks associated with natural childbirth," said Tauzin, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


    President Bush (news - web sites), who appealed in his State of the Union address in January for limits on what juries can award, celebrated the passage.


    "Today's House vote is an important step toward creating a liability system that fairly compensates those who are truly harmed, punishes egregious misconduct without driving good doctors out of medicine and improves access to quality affordable health care by reducing health care costs," Bush said in a statement.


    The issue of medical liability has been at the forefront for months. The American Medical Association, which represents doctors, has said that 18 states are in a crisis because of the liability problem. Doctors have taken to protests and rallies to show their displeasure.


    Doctors in Florida, Mississippi and West Virginia temporarily stopped some patient services. Last month, doctors in New Jersey withheld routine treatments for several days to protest ballooning malpractice rates.


    Last summer in Nevada, doctors temporarily closed the top level trauma center in Las Vegas, forcing critically injured patients to be transferred.


    There have been numerous reports of doctors dropping high-risk specialties such as obstetrics to lower their liability risks.


    In Congress, there is agreement about the increasing problem. Democrats argue, however, that caps will do little to combat rising premiums and will instead increase profits of the insurance industry.


    Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the measure was "an insurance giveaway bill."


    "This is not going to bring doctors into rural and urban America," she said.


    In addition to the cap on noneconomic damages, punitive damages - those that punish a physician for serious mistakes - would be limited to twice the amount of economic damages awarded or $250,000, whichever is greater.


    The legislation would restrict patients' ability to file lawsuits over old cases and set limits on lawyers' fees. The bill would affect not just doctors but also hospitals, nursing homes and other health providers.

    Democrats contend the limits are unfair to the thousands of victims of medical errors and their families.

    Donna Christian-Christensen, the delegate for the Virgin Islands and a physician, called the bill "another wolf in lamb's clothing."

    "Health care professionals need to see through this sham," the Democrat said. "It's no help at all. Doctors are but pawns in what is clearly special interest legislation."

    ___

    On the Net:

    Information on the bill, H.R. 5, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov

  2. #2
    It is very interesting that this piece of legislation attracts very little interest from people with spinal cord injury. What do people think of the $250,000 limit to malpractice suits? Wise.

  3. #3
    Court Reform is very bad...these people need to understand that $250,000 would not cover the medical expenses for one year in many cases. They also need to realize the cost of catheters, manual and power wheelchairs, vehicle modifications, home modifications, etc.

  4. #4
    Dr. Young,
    Maybe I have misunderstood this issue. If a doctor operates on someone for example, and by negligence paralyzes them...then that person sues...no matter what the jury awards, they will only get $250,000 because a cap has been set to protect doctors from malpractice lawsuits? If this is the case I believe this would be harmful to many people and would be the start of protecting large corporations, etc from being responsible when they hurt someone. I realize there are frivolous lawsuits, but I don't think this is an answer. When a person gets automobile insurance, their past record has a great deal to do with the amount they pay for insurance coverage. Shouldn't liability insurance for doctors be the same? I think insurance reform is what is needed, not court or "tort" reform...I found a couple of interesting links on this subject...
    www.ccjustice.org/AIRltr.htm
    www.insurance-reform.org/

  5. #5
    oops..."noneconomic" damages...sorry, I didn't read the bill until later...I still think we need insurance reform.
    I don't think it's right to "completely" disregard or do away with the opinion of 12 people on a jury. I realize there is a problem with frivolous lawsuits, but a spinal cord injury, severe disfigurement, or especially "death" is not "frivolous". I noticed it says the jury shall not be informed of the limitation...It also states that punitive damages will only be awarded if malicious intent is proven.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Max's Avatar
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    Sen. Feinstein Drops Malpractice Deal

    Sen. Feinstein Drops Malpractice Deal
    Fri Mar 28, 8:57 AM ET Add Health - AP to My Yahoo!


    By JANELLE CARTER, Associated Press Writer

    WASHINGTON - Sen. Dianne Feinstein (news, bio, voting record) has dropped efforts for now to arrange a compromise on medical malpractice legislation, citing opposition from physicians pushing for limits on jury awards.


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    Feinstein, D-Calif., had been working with Republican leaders on a compromise that would double the $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages that is included in the House-passed legislation. The damages include compensation for injuries such as the loss of a limb or of sight.


    Doctors have supported the House legislation, but many senators have balked at the cap on jury awards. Feinstein and other lawmakers had hoped the compromise, with its increased cap, could win enough Democratic votes to pass.


    "I continue to believe in the importance of medical malpractice insurance liability reform," Feinstein said Thursday. But she said the compromise she had been developing with Senate GOP leaders Bill Frist of Tennessee and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky "is not being supported by the major medical associations."


    "At this time, I do not see the value of introducing legislation that is opposed by the very doctors I am trying to help," Feinstein said.


    Officials at the American Medical Association, which represents physicians, denied opposing the proposal.


    "We have not closed the door on anything," said Dr. Donald Palmisano, the AMA's president-elect. "We're open to discussion but we want to make sure that policy is decided on proven facts."


    Palmisano said the group's experts still were examining the proposal to see if it would tackle the malpractice problem.


    Physicians have said action is needed because frivolous lawsuits are driving up the cost of malpractice insurance and leading doctors to move to other states or curb their medical practices to stay in business.


    While the House legislation limits noneconomic damages, it would not limit compensation for loss of wages, medical bills, funeral expenses or other economic damages.


    The cap on noneconomic damages has been the main point of contention with the bill. Many senators have complained it is unfair to spouses, children or poor people unable to show any loss of wages.


    The Senate compromise would have increased to $500,000 the cap on those damages and would have allowed awards up to $2 million in cases of severe disfigurement or death.


    Neither the House nor Senate versions would pre-empt noneconomic caps already law in about half the states.


    The House legislation also limits punitive damages - those that punish a physician for serious mistakes - to twice the amount of economic damages awarded or $250,000, whichever is greater.


    ___


    On the Net:


    Information on the House bill, H.R. 5, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov

  7. #7
    Senior Member Josh's Avatar
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    I have some experience with tort reform. I've been fighting it for 2 months here in Arkansas. I testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee twice and the Senate Committee once. It didn't do any good. The bill passed and let me tell you that they made sure EVERYTHING was in the bill. Please don't be confused about this issue. They want people to believe that this is all about Doctors and frivolous lawsuits and our insurance premiums going down. The fact is that tort reform is another way to make sure the big corporations and insurance companies are taken care of. It's another way to save them money. The citizens of this country are not priority number one. The reason we are about to have nation wide tort reform is because of Wal-Mart, Ford, GMC, Firestone, etc, etc...You fill in the blank. They all put big money into this to make sure that it passes.

    The reason Doctors have high insurance premiems is because of our economy. These insurance companies have lost BIG money in the stock market and now they have to recoup some of it.

    They have tried tort reform in other states and it has not worked. How's that for a clinical trial?

    Now these corporations will not be held accountable when they put out defective products. I bet you would see alot more people driving drunk if there weren't a penalty for that. I would be willing to bet that you will start seeing alot more defective products out on our streets.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Josh's Avatar
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    two more things that I forgot. First, I agree with redneck64 about insurance reform. This is definitely the answer. The second thing I wanted to say was, that if the main reason for tort reform was to help the Doctors then why don't they make it med-mal only and leave product liablity out of the bill??? I actually know the answer. It is because the Doctors arent the main reason for this bill. The big corporations are.

    Instead of a cap on punitive damages why don't they put a cap on it based on the value of the defendant??? This is the one that I don't get. This question was asked at one of the committees I was at. The answer to this question was...I hope your ready for this... are you sitting down?..."It just wouldn't work that way" that's right, "It just wouldn't work that way". And what they didn't say but was very clear was that this wouldn't work for the big corporations and insurance companies. And I'm spent.

  9. #9
    Junior Member Julia_Catherine's Avatar
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    As one who has almost end up in a casket due to medical malpractice, I feel the cap on noneconomic damages will only be an insult to others who also have been injured. I, along with many others, are now fighting measures in Texas to cap financial recovery after medical malpractice. The only true way to end this crisis is to make insurance companies resposible for their bad business deals. Also, the insurance industry needs to stop trying to make healthcare providers pay for bad investments. Unfortunately, I have seen some wonderful healthcare providers forced to stop practicing medicine due to high insurance premiums.

    It will be interesting to see how this issue turns out.

  10. #10
    Originally posted by redneck64:

    Dr. Young,
    Maybe I have misunderstood this issue. If a doctor operates on someone for example, and by negligence paralyzes them...then that person sues...no matter what the jury awards, they will only get $250,000 because a cap has been set to protect doctors from malpractice lawsuits? If this is the case I believe this would be harmful to many people and would be the start of protecting large corporations, etc from being responsible when they hurt someone. I realize there are frivolous lawsuits, but I don't think this is an answer. When a person gets automobile insurance, their past record has a great deal to do with the amount they pay for insurance coverage. Shouldn't liability insurance for doctors be the same? I think insurance reform is what is needed, not court or "tort" reform...I found a couple of interesting links on this subject...
    http://www.ccjustice.org/AIRltr.htm
    http://www.insurance-reform.org/


    Redneck, I am not sure but I think that cap is not on the total amount of the award but simply the punitive part. In other words, the part of the lawsuit that seeks to recover the costs of the suit and the direct costs of the malpractice consequences does not have a limit. I think that the proposed legislation limits the punitive side of the awards to $250,000.

    The rationale for lawsuits is of course to make sure that the doctors pay for the costs of their mistakes and the theory is that this serves as a deterrent to further mistakes. But, this malpractice situation has evolved an army of ambulance-chasing lawyers who get a percentage of the award. Malpractice payments are funding a whole industry of lawyers who make their living from such cases.

    Many people assume that the doctors and corporations are paying for malpractice. Doctors and the corporations really are not the ones that are paying huge multimillion dollar awards. Yes, lawsuits do punish doctors and corporations because they are very troublesome. But, the reality of the situation is that malpractice awards are paid by malpractice and liability insurance.

    Insurance companies simply increase the rates that they charge doctors and companies. The doctors and companies in turn charge the patients more, or as much as they can. Doctors cannot charge more than what medical insurance is willing to pay them and, when this happens, they stop providing service. This is exactly what happened in the obstetrics field where most of obstetricians stopped working or stopped taking risky pregnancies. A typical neurosurgeon today pays as much as $150,000 or more per year for malpractice insurance, even if he/she is a very good neurosurgeon and makes very few mistakes.

    In the end, the patients pay for the large multimillion awards in the following ways:
    1. Increased cost of medical care and products.
    2. Decreased availability of medical care and services.
    3. Doctors who are reluctant to venture beyond standard medical care.

    In my opinion, many of the people in the spinal cord injury community have been hurt by the above situation. A significant part of the price of each drug and each device is the cost of liability. How many people have gone to a doctor and found that the doctor is unwilling to take care of them, is unwilling to undertake a risky procedure (such as decompression of chronic spinal cord injury), or is unwilling to try a new medication or procedure? A major part of the $800 million required now to move a therapy from discovery to market is the research necessary to establish safety of the treatment and to make sure that the companies are not liable.

    I think that the pervasive fear of malpractice suits in the United States has had a bad effect on medical practice and the delays in developing therapies. It is one of the main reasons why therapy development can proceed so much faster overseas.

    Wise.

    [This message was edited by Wise Young on 04-03-03 at 07:03 AM.]

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