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Lawmakers and Patients' Rights Groups Voice Opposition Against Tort Reform

Debate began this week on the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act of 2011, a bill that would make it more difficult to bring civil suits against health care providers, including nursing homes, hospitals, and insurance companies.

Several groups have already urged House Republicans to abandon efforts to overhaul the nation’s medical liability laws with the passage of H.R. 5.

As reported by The Hill, a bipartisan association of state lawmakers is one group lobbying against the legislation, arguing it is a matter best addressed by the states. In a letter to House Republicans, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) argued that the federal government should not determine medical malpractice standards.

Patients’ rights groups are equally unhappy with the legislation. In their letter to Congress, they are concerned that the bill will:

  • Restrict noneconomic damages
  • Restrict punitive damages
  • Shorten the statute of limitations
  • Allow insurance companies to pay compensation in structured settlements

Opponents argue the one-year statute of limitations would adversely impact patients suffering from diseases that manifest over time, while structured settlements would allow insurance companies to reap the benefits of the interest that accrues on money owed to patients.

While the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the bill would reduce health care costs by one-half of a percent, the CBO also projected that as many as 4,000 more people could die each year from medical mistakes if the proposed legislation ultimately passes.

As evidenced by California’s efforts, although medical malpractice tort reform is intended to curb the tide of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits in order to control health care costs, the projected cost savings are not always realized while patients still pay the price.