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Medical Liability Bill Would Place Patients, Consumers in Harm’s Way, Groups Say

Alliance for Justice | Center for Justice and Democracy | Consumer Federation of America | Consumer Watchdog | National Consumers League | The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care (formerly NCCNHR) | National Women’s Health Network  | Public Citizen | Alliance for Safety Awareness for Patients, Sherman Oaks, CA | The Empowered Patient Coalition, San Francisco, CA | Citizens for Patient Safety, Denver, CO | PULSE of Colorado, Pueblo, CO  | Connecticut Center for Patient Safety, Hartford, CT | MRSA Survivors Network, Hinsdale, IL | Voice4Patients, Warren, ME | New Hampshire Patient Voices, Bow, NH | New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) | PULSE of NY, Long Island, NY | North Carolina Coalition for Patient Safety, Raleigh, NC | James’s Project, Wayne, PA | Mothers Against Medical Error, Columbia, SC | South Carolina Voices for Patient Safety, Chesterfield, SC | Patient Safety America, Houston, TX | Texas Watch

Feb. 1, 2011 

Medical Liability Bill Would Place Patients, Consumers in Harm’s Way, Groups Say

Negligent Doctors and Pharmaceutical Companies Should Not Be Shielded

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty-four consumer and patient safety groups representing more than 50 million people sent a letter today to U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), expressing strong opposition to a bill introduced Jan. 24 that would limit the legal rights of injured patients and families of those killed or injured by negligent health care.

 The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011 (H.R. 5) goes beyond shielding negligent doctors; it also restricts liability in cases involving unsafe drugs and medical devices, and nursing home abuse and neglect, the groups said.

 Not only does the legislation put patients in jeopardy, it also does not reduce health care costs, as proponents argue. Provisions laid out in the bill – such as caps on economic damages in malpractice lawsuits and limited time periods for patients to file suit, which are much more restrictive than many state rules – would save little in health care costs. In fact, it’s likely to increase the burden on taxpayer-funded health and disability programs because the cost will shift from the “perpetrators of malpractice” to the public, the letter said.

 The groups noted that medical malpractice premiums for doctors, inflation-adjusted, are nearly the lowest they have been in more than 30 years. The decrease in rates is occurring nationwide, regardless of whether a state has enacted “tort reform” laws. Meanwhile, medical malpractice claims have declined significantly, according to the National Center for State Courts.

 “Medical malpractice is already at epidemic levels in this country … Congress should focus on improving patient safety and reducing deaths and injuries, not insulating negligent providers from accountability and saddling taxpayers with the cost,” the letter said.

 Malpractice reform legislation should establish a physician’s registry that tracks doctor records in all 50 states, provide state medical boards with incentives to improve their monitoring and discipline of doctors, and mandate disclosure of medical errors, the groups said. Congress also should repeal the insurance industry’s antitrust exemption, which allows it to fix prices.

 “These laws have had terrible consequences for injured patients who have been shut out of courts altogether, and for patient safety, in general,” the letter said. “It would be a tragic mistake to impose such “tort reform” laws on the rest of the country.”

 To read the letter and the groups’ analysis of H.R. 5, visit: https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/letter-opposing-hr5-20110131.pdf.