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Medical Liability Reform Resurrected

Medical Liability Reform Resurrected

A bipartisan group of House of Representatives members is trying to pass a medical malpractice reform bill. Medical liability reform disappeared along with the Patients’ Bill of Rights, in which it was included, when the House and Senate failed to agree on a compromise version of the bill at the end of 1999.

Managed care reform lost its impetus, and the decision by the St. Paul Companies (the number 2 medical malpractice insurer) to abandon that market, stirred the physician community. Hundreds of Texas physicians staged a 1-day strike in March 2002 to protest escalating premiums. 

In the last week of April, the The HEALTH (Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Health Care) Act was introduced. The bipartisan bill (1) limits the number of years a plaintiff has to file a health-care liability action to ensure that claims are brought while evidence and witnesses are available; (2) allocates damages in proportion to a party’s degree of fault; (3) allows patients to recover economic damages such as future medical expenses and loss of future earnings while establishing a cap of $250,000 on noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering; (4) limits punitive damages to the greater of two times the amount of economic damages awarded or $250,000.

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif), a sponsor of the legislation, says it is patterned after a current California law—the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. Donald J. Palmisano, MD, JD, secretary-treasurer of the American Medical Association, which supports the bill, says, "Because of the sky-high cost of liability insurance, physicians throughout the country are limiting their practices, some have stopped delivering babies, and some are even leaving the practice of medicine completely. Unless the hemorrhaging costs of the current medical liability system are addressed, patients will continue to face erosion in access to care."

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