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Cruel bill burdens patients, lets health industry off the hook

We expected this, but it is no less disappointing. Yesterday, House members of Congress submitted a proposal to impose cruel restrictions on medical malpractice victims under the misleading guise of lowering health care costs.

The only result practically ensured from their bill, ironically called the HEALTH Act, is the further devastation of patients who suffer debilitating injuries from medical errors. The bill aims to give a free pass to practically every player in the health industry (physicians, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and nursing homes, to name a few), releasing them of their duty to treat patients with adequate care and respect. Meanwhile, injured patients will lose their ability to hold these powerful groups accountable.

And on top of it all, this bill won’t even lower health care costs. All it would do is shift the burden of paying for medical providers’ bad behavior from the wrongdoers themselves to the patients, their families and taxpayers.

The bill specifically restricts individuals’ rights by:

• presenting an arbitrary and cruel $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages that directly impacts patients with the most serious injuries such as deafness, blindness, loss of limb or organ, paraplegia or severe brain damage;

• allowing providers and insurance companies to control payout for future damages, delaying the compensation that patients need right away;

• capping attorney fees, which will reduce the supply of representation for victims;

• shortening the time that patients can sue, which will extinguish many valid claims against negligent medical providers; and

• imposing a federal one-size-fits-all scheme on all 50 states, trumping hundreds of years of state law and intruding upon states’ rights to manage their own legal systems.

Hopefully, this bill, introduced by Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and David Scott (D-Ga.), won’t proceed any further. But if it comes up for a vote, Congress must reject it.

Christine Hines is consumer and civil justice counsel for Public Citizen. Find Christine on Twitter @chines_citizen.