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 April 6, 2011

H.R. 5: A Medical Industry Handout and a Theft of Consumers’ Rights; Epidemic of Medical Errors Must Be Addressed

Statement of Christine Hines, Consumer and Civil Justice Counsel, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Note: Today, a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing to discuss H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act.

Today, lawmakers are considering H.R. 5, a dangerous, anti-consumer bill that, if passed, would restrict the legal rights of malpractice victims and eliminate accountability for the medical industry. The premises on which they justify the measure are wrong. What’s really going on is that some members of Congress are trying to throw a bone to their corporate friends.

Contrary to H.R. 5 proponents’ assertions, malpractice payments from doctors to victims of medical negligence are at a record low. Despite that fact, the medical industry and proponents of liability limits are relying on the disingenuous argument that doctors conduct excessive tests and procedures on their patients to avoid lawsuits. Backers of the bill claim that excessive testing, which they call “defensive medicine,” is the biggest cost contributor to the nation’s health care costs.

This argument is patently false.

In a report released last week, Public Citizen revealed that common claims about defensive medicine are wildly exaggerated. In reality, the phenomenon is at most a very small factor in medical care. Empirical studies on excessive testing and procedures have found that doctors make their decisions based on what they believe is proper medical care, not because they fear lawsuits. Public Citizen also found a much better explanation for unnecessary tests and procedures: Medical providers have a financial incentive to order them. In most situations, providers are paid for each additional test or procedure they perform. 

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, proponents of liability restrictions continue to make wild claims of cost savings to justify giving handouts to all the players in the medical industry, including doctors, drug companies, medical device manufacturers and nursing homes.

H.R. 5 is intended to protect the profits of large industries by giving them virtual immunity from accountability for a range of reckless actions, which they would do by stamping out patients’ legal rights. Under this bill, manufacturers would be more likely to put dangerous drugs and medical devices on the market with little concern for patients’ safety. Nursing homes would be able to give substandard care to elderly residents with minimal consequence.

Instead of focusing on ways to shield the powerful medical and insurance industries and pad their profits, lawmakers should focus on cures for the current epidemic of medical errors that kill more than 100,000 Americans in hospitals every year.

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