May 4, 2006
Medical Malpractice Bills in Senate Are Affront to Justice
Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen
In the past two days, Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) have introduced bills that would make it harder for patients hurt by negligent doctors to seek and obtain compensation for their injuries. Ensign’s bill, S. 22, reduces the accountability of wrongdoers by capping their liability for non-economic damages at $250,000 in most cases and making them responsible only for expenses that exceed a patient’s own health insurance or public benefits. Santorum’s bill, S. 23, is still more egregious because it contains the same provisions but targets only women and children, leaving the rights of male patients untouched. Both bills are being thrust onto the Senate floor tomorrow, bypassing committees that have the expertise and time to give them meaningful consideration. It is worth noting that the family of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist – who is pushing this legislation through the Senate – is the primary owner of Hospital Corporation of America, one of the nation’s largest operators of hospital facilities, which has a subsidiary medical malpractice insurer, Health Care Indemnity.
Senate Republicans are stretching the meaning of the English language and demonstrating contempt for ordinary citizens by styling a blatant attack on injured patients’ rights as a way to improve access to health care. These dangerous bills are no more than cynical ploys designed to boost votes from the medical lobby and insurers in an election year, not a sincere attempt to make health care more affordable or safer. Santorum has admitted as much, urging a physicians association in Pennsylvania just a few weeks ago to use its political strength to elect a sympathetic legislator.
These bills are an affront to the principles of justice and accountability. They should be soundly defeated.