The House Judiciary Committee began its consideration today of a bill that would punish medical malpractice victims and protect negligent players in the health industry. So predisposed were the proponents to this draconian bill that they rejected modest amendments aimed at leveling the playing field for patients against the health industry.
The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act of 2011 (H.R. 5) is deeply flawed and would allow for sweeping immunity from accountability for the health industry – including doctors, nursing home operators, medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals.
The bill imposes an arbitrary, inhumane $250,000 cap on non-economic damages that compensate patients for the pain and suffering that accompany any loss of normal functions, such as blindness, paralysis, loss of sexual function, disfigurement and loss of fertility. H.R. 5’s one-size-fits-all cap is most harmful to the catastrophically injured as well as patients who aren’t high earners, such as children and seniors.
Today, Republicans voted against reasonable amendments to ensure medical providers are liable for intentional acts that harm and defective medical products. If this bill passes, medical providers and manufacturers could engage in egregious behavior without fear of punishment.
Supporters of H.R. 5 talk about reducing health care costs for the public and cutting providers’ liability insurance premiums, but they ignore the likely consequences for taxpayers. If the negligent providers do not pay for the injuries they cause, then the costs of care will shift to the injured individuals, their families and taxpayers through Medicare, Medicaid and disability benefits programs.
Instead of debating proposals that would inflict more pain on injured patients, Congress should consider ways to reduce the astounding number of medical errors and ensure that the health industry is strongly encouraged to provide Americans with quality care.
The bill is scheduled to be taken up again on Feb. 16, but the House committee should drop this harmful legislation from its agenda and start over with a patient safety proposal that will both save lives and costs.
Christine Hines is the consumer and civil justice counsel at Public Citizen.