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May 11, 2011

Congressional Lawmakers Ignore Facts as They Push Measure to Further Punish Injured Patients

Statement of Christine Hines, Consumer and Civil Justice Counsel, Public Citizen

The House Energy and Commerce Committee today is pushing through H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act – a bill that would restrict a patient’s right to seek compensation for injuries suffered from medical malpractice. This overreaching bill would displace centuries’ worth of state law.

Many states, including Wisconsin, Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina, have passed or are considering proposals that would eviscerate individuals’ rights when they are injured by medical providers’ negligence or recklessness. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 state legislatures and Puerto Rico have introduced liability bills in the 2011 session, convinced by the powerful medical industry lobby that shielding it from accountability is good for Americans and will cut health care costs. In reality, these proposals will reduce incentives that the industry has to keep Americans safe from substandard health care or defective medical products. 

While policymakers are considering ways to limit patients’ rights, study after study has proven that a crisis exists in patient safety. A report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Inspector General indicated that 180,000 Medicare patients die every year from medical errors. A recent Health Affairs article also concluded that measurable medical errors cost the health care system $17.1 billion in one year.

Instead of focusing on patient safety, it is disappointing to know that some members of Congress and their counterparts in the states prefer to support proposals such as H.R. 5 that would reward an industry responsible for so many medical errors.

 Congress must reject this gift to the medical industry and introduce legislation that instead would focus on reducing medical errors.

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