Medical Liability Reform Resurrected

June 1, 2002

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.

A bipartisan group of House ofRepresentatives 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 acompromise version of the bill at the end of 1999.

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

In the last week of April, the The HEALTH (Help Efficient,Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Health Care) Act was introduced. The bipartisanbill (1) limits the number of years a plaintiff has to file a health-careliability action to ensure that claims are brought while evidence and witnessesare available; (2) allocates damages in proportion to a party’s degree offault; (3) allows patients to recover economic damages such as future medicalexpenses and loss of future earnings while establishing a cap of $250,000 onnoneconomic damages such as pain and suffering; (4) limits punitive damages tothe 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 InjuryCompensation Reform Act. Donald J. Palmisano, MD, JD, secretary-treasurer of theAmerican Medical Association, which supports the bill, says, "Because ofthe sky-high cost of liability insurance, physicians throughout the country arelimiting their practices, some have stopped delivering babies, and some are evenleaving the practice of medicine completely. Unless the hemorrhaging costs ofthe current medical liability system are addressed, patients will continue toface erosion in access to care."