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June 16, 2017

House Resolution 1215 - Win-Win or Win-Lose?

  Legal Reader

By Sara E. Teller

House Resolution 1215 (H.R. 1215), the Protecting Access to Care Act, is a measure that Congress will soon vote on.  The bill would weaken accountability requirements for physicians, care centers, hospitals, and drug manufactures accused of causing a patient’s injury or death, but, according to supporters, still provide a win-win for physicians and patients.  The bill would also cancel out any malpractice lawsuits at the state level, including claims of medical negligence, defective medical devices, risky pharmaceuticals, and nursing home mistreatment, and set a mandated federal cap on damages awarded as well as a statute of limitations.  After a certain period of time, individuals would not be able to to file a claim.

“It even overrides state constitutional provisions, that the people of the states have added to their constitutions in order to protect patients and people who are injured by medical negligence,” Conservative writer and public policy consultant Dean Clancy said. He doesn’t see the bill as a win-win for both parties, and claimed this means the provisions in the resolution would trump constitutional rights at the state level.  “And so, there’s a very high-handed, top-down, Washington-knows-best quality,”  Clancy added.  The bill would particularly affect those covered by Medicare and Medicaid, as well as active service members and veterans.  Supporters of the bill believe it would reduce the filing of unneeded and unwarranted medical lawsuits as well as reduce costs to providers.

But, Clancy argued, “Research suggests that the kinds of reforms they’re pushing, like damage caps, don’t really save a lot of money”, addressing supposed cost reduction. “Medical malpractice probably accounts for less than 2.5 percent of all health care costs. So there’s actually not much money to be saved in this area.”

According to a Johns Hopkins University study, avoidable medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., following heart disease and cancer. Currently, many state medical liability laws allow for unlimited non-economic damages. This bill, according to those who oppose it, would encourage providers to practice defensive medicine, which would, in turn, would actually increase the cost of healthcare, and put a significant burden on healthcare providers.  H.R. 1215 would limit non-economic damages to $250,000 and cap lawyer fees. The bill would also mandate a three-year statute of limitation. H.R. 1215 would apply to healthcare lawsuits where coverage was provided through a Federal program, subsidy, or tax benefit.   

In addition to the provisions in H.R. 1215, President’s Trump’s budget proposal for 2018 would modify the collateral source rule to allow evidence of a claimant’s income to be introduced at trial. The proposal would also  authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide guidance to state legislators in order to create expert panels and exclude provider expressions of regret or apology from the pool of evidence introduced in a lawsuit. Supporters argue that patients will save money once unnecessary litigation is eliminated, and that the bill may also reduce provider burden and improve relationships between physicians and patients, creating a win-win situation. Opponents of HR 1215 specifically include the Institute for Policy Innovation, the Taxpayer Protection Alliance and the American Bar Association.


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