The current Republican-majority Congress will soon be voting on a measure called, ironically, the “Protecting Access to Care Act.” This bill (H.R. 1215) is designed to primarily protect the interests of doctors and insurance companies, many of whom agree with restrictions on the amount a patient can sue for medical malpractice.
H.R. 1215 would place a 3-year statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits in numerous cases where the act of a negligent physician, nurse, or caretaker caused the pain and suffering or death of a loved one. It would also put a price tag on a human life: $250,000. It sets a cap on compensation for “noneconomic damages,” such as pain and suffering, permanent disfigurement, or severe disabilities that don’t necessarily interfere with a person’s ability to work.
The same Republicans seeking to pass the bill are often the ones touting small government, saying big-government reach interferes with states’ rights. However, H.R. 1215 would mandate the repeal of previous state laws on medical malpractice litigation. It would apply even in states where caps like the one proposed were ruled unconstitutional. (The Florida Supreme Court ruled limits on “noneconomic” damages in such suits were unconstitutional in 2016).
Those in support of H.R. 1215 claim that placing a cap on liability suits would reduce the cost of health care and make it more accessible to everyone. “Frivolous” lawsuits would drop, and, supposedly, the liability insurance of doctors would then fall. But this legislation only affects those covered by health care through a “federal program, subsidy, or tax benefit”—in other words, those using the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and veteran and service member plans. There is also little evidence to prove that frivolous allegations are driving up premiums.
Johns Hopkins University researchers looking at medical malpractice payouts larger than $1 million found that those payments added up to about $1.4 billion a year, less than 1% of U.S. national medical expenses. Most of the costs, they discovered, were due to unnecessary tests performed by doctors out of fear they would be sued for not ordering them. However, that same fear keeps many patients safe. Researchers who studied patient safety in states with liability caps learned that the general standard of care falls after such limits are enacted. Malpractice liability gives physicians a reason to be cautious.
Medical errors are the 3rd-leading cause of death in the United States, many of which could be prevented with greater care and attention. Frivolous lawsuits are rarer than these policymakers claim. People who seek compensation for a person they love do so out of a sense of justice, and those in the health care field have a responsibility to their patients. If they are unfit to practice medicine, they should remove themselves from the equation before they do any further damage.
For example, a Texas surgeon named Christopher Duntsch (“Dr. Death”) was recently found guilty of aggravated assault for deliberately maiming a patient. He was initially accused of killing two people and crippling four others between July 2012 and June 2013, but he also left behind a trail of dead and disabled victims, such as Kellie Martin, Floella Brown, and Jerry Summers. Texas, however, is a state with a similar $250,000 liability-claims cap, and the man continued to practice for several years despite his spotty history.
Passing a bill like H.R. 1215 would open the doors to other irresponsible practitioners across the United States. People who disregard patient safety should be held accountable for their actions. Call your Congressional members today to ensure this measure fails. It protects reckless doctors from repercussions and guarantees insurance companies can pocket the majority of money that should go to care for patients and their families. Make sure your representatives in Congressunderstand you do not support this legislation. Your voice should be heard.
If you or a loved one was injured by a medical practitioner, contact our Nebraska personal injury attorneys. You can reach us at (308) 633-4444 or by filling out our online form. We offer free initial consultations.