House Hearing on Medical Malpractice Reform

January 25, 2011

The House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing of the 112th Congress on the relationship between medical malpractice liability and health care costs. The hearing commences the process for committees of jurisdiction to report alternative legislation to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

The Jan. 20 hearing focused on medical malpractice reform at the federal level, tort reform, problems with defensive medicine, and doctor shortages in certain medical areas due to high malpractice insurance rates.

PPACA includes demonstration grants to states to develop, implement, and evaluate alternatives to current tort litigations. However, the provision was accepted by congressional Republicans as merely a nod toward medical malpractice reform that didn’t go far enough.

Although last week’s hearing did not consider a particular piece of legislation, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Representatives Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and David Scott (D-Ga.) have since introduced The Health Act (H.R. 5), which provides a comprehensive medical malpractice reform proposal.

The bill would, among other things, limit the number of years a plaintiff has to file a legal claim against medical practitioners and ensure that doctors are only liable for the portion of a procedure for which they are at fault. It also ensures that more monetary awards would go to patients, not patients’ lawyers, puts “reasonable limits” on punitive damages and allows states to maintain their own damage award caps.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 40% of malpractice suits filed in the U.S. are “without merit.” These suits drive up the cost of health care for all Americans and drive many experienced medical professionals out of business. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) – the official, non-partisan budget score-keeper on congressional proposals – suggested a modest medical malpractice reform proposal offered by Republicans during the health care reform debate would save approximately $54 billion over 10 years.

NSBA continues to focus advocacy efforts on health care reform initiatives that lower the cost of health care and the price of health care premiums. Stay tuned to NSBA’s Health Reform Today and Tomorrow Web site for more news and information as it is made available.