Backers, opponents debate malpractice cap bill's worth

September 6, 2005

Washington -- The House of Representatives has approved legislation that would limit awards in malpractice lawsuits for pain and suffering to $250,000.

Washington -- The House of Representatives has approved legislation that would limit awards in malpractice lawsuits for pain and suffering to $250,000.

The bill now goes to the Senate for approval, which observers say is far from assured: The House has passed previous measures to limit the amount of malpractice awards, only to have them stall in the Senate.

The "HEALTH" (Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare) bill is one of several pieces of legislation Congress has either recently passed or plans to look at that limit certain kinds of lawsuits.

The White House issued a statement backing the bill as a remedy for a "badly broken medical liability system" and one that would "ensure a more timely, predictable and fair liability system."

The bill's Congressional backers -- most of them Republicans -- say spiraling insurance premiums are forcing doctors, particularly those in high-risk specialties such as neurosurgery, to go out of business. Opponents -- mostly Democrats -- argue that a $250,000 awards cap is arbitrary and that such caps have had mixed results when some states have implemented them. Opponents note that the bill would not limit economic damages covering lost wages or medical expenses, and say that while the bill would help make the insurance business more profitable, it wouldn't necessarily bring doctors any economic relief -- and could even contribute to harming patients.

Opponents strongly criticized a provision that would protect drug companies and manufacturers of medical devices from having to pay punitive damages as long as their product was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Backers of the bill countered by saying its opponents were exaggerating the protections offered to the drug and medical-device companies. Backers said such companies could still be held liable if they were found to have withheld pertinent data from the FDA during the approval process.

Related Content:

Pediatric Dermatology