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Federal Tort Reform Measures Threaten Patient's Rights

Congress is set to vote on House Resolution 1215 later this week. The resolution is part of the American HealthCare Act (ACHA). If approved, several patient safeguards could be threatened. Critics on both sides of the political aisle find fault with the act, as it would reduce accountability of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers who may be guilty of medical negligence. The resolution would place a federal cap on non-economic damages injured patients may recover. The suggested cap is $250,000, as it is in California. Those familiar with California medical malpractice laws understand the burden this limit has placed on the victims of medical negligence, with those catastrophically injured often unable to recover full and just compensation for their injuries. It may simply not be feasible for those with serious injuries but limited economic losses to bring a medical malpractice action, despite negligence occurring.

Further, where states have medical malpractice laws in place, a federal bill may override those state protections.

Another concern is that the bill disproportionately affects those people who receive federal health care – such as Medicare, Medicaid, or as members of the military.

Supporters claim that the caps are necessary to reduce the number of “frivolous” medical malpractice lawsuits, and reduce excessive jury awards, but little evidence exists supporting this argument. Bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit requires significant effort, including the ordering and evaluation of medical records for expert review. Due to the complex nature of such actions, the vast majority of medical malpractice cases that do go to trial before a jury have been thoroughly evaluated. When a large jury award occurs, it represents the value the jury believes is fair and just for that injury.

Additionally research concerning the effectiveness of caps, shows that their use doesn’t translate into medical insurance saving. In fact, medical malpractice costs (including jury payouts) represents less than 2.5 percent of all health care costs. Attempts to reduce this further would have limited impact.

Studies have shown that preventable medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer. Efforts should be placed on improving patient safety and holding negligent health care providers accountable.

For more information or if you believe that you or a loved one has been injured as the result of negligent medical care, please contact our experienced Los Angeles medical malpractice team at Bostwick & Peterson, LLP for an immediate consultation.



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