March 19, 2012
U.S. House Should Reject Flawed Medical Liability Measure
H.R. 5 Would Shift Burden of Medical Industry’s Wrongdoing to Patients and U.S. Taxpayers
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives should reject H.R. 5, a deeply flawed medical liability proposal misnamed the “Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act,” Public Citizen said in a letter sent today to the House. House Republican leadership is tying the measure to its effort to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which is a new entity created by the Affordable Care Act to curb Medicare spending.
H.R. 5 would prove devastating to medical malpractice victims, overturn numerous state laws and escalate the costs of existing government programs by saddling the state with costs created by private wrongdoers, the letter said. The bill would shield physicians and hospitals, drug and medical device manufacturers and nursing home operators from accountability.
Backers of H.R. 5 contend that less accountability for private industry would save health care costs. In reality, the opposite is true. Not only would H.R. 5 shield private parties whose negligent or reckless acts caused injury, but it also would force the injured victims and their families to turn to public, taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare, Medicaid and disability benefits for medical care and other financial assistance, the letter said.
“In blocking patients from seeking compensation from negligent parties that injure them, this bill will force them to turn to taxpayers for aid,” said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel with Public Citizen. “If Congress was truly interested in enacting cost-saving measures, it would focus on reducing the thousands of injuries and deaths each year caused by preventable medical errors, which a government report said adds billions of dollars per year to the cost of U.S. health care.”
Some of the dangerous provisions of H.R. 5 include:
- Capping non-economic damages, which compensate for the pain and suffering that accompany any loss of normal functions, at $250,000;
- Granting medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies immunity from punitive damages, which currently are awarded only in the most egregious instances of wrongdoing;
- Leaving patients without compensation for the share of damages assigned to an uninsured, underinsured or bankrupt defendant;
- Imposing unreasonable restrictions on the time period for patients to file a lawsuit to seek compensation for their injuries;
- Reducing a wrongdoer’s responsibility to pay a victim’s medical costs when those costs could be paid by someone else, such as a private insurer or Medicare;
- Allowing negligent providers to pay out compensation over many years, shortchanging victims who need the compensation immediately to cover their health care costs; and
- Limiting fees for patients’ attorneys while providing no limits on the health industry’s legal fees.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.