State Medical Malpractice Laws Could Be Weakened By Congress

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Congress is considering a bill (HR 1215) to make it harder for people to sue for medical negligence or malpractice.

Calleamanecer/Wikimedia Commons

Congress is considering a bill (HR 1215) to make it harder for people to sue for medical negligence or malpractice.

Medical malpractice laws in Iowa, Minnesota and other states would be nullified under a measure in Congress that could be voted on this week. 

Rep. Steve King of Iowa introduced House Resolution 1215, the Protecting Access to Care Act.

It would weaken accountability requirements for hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and drug companies accused in a patient’s injury or death. 

Conservative writer and public policy consultant Dean Clancy says he’s concerned the measure would cancel out any state level malpractice laws.

“It even overrides state constitutional provisions, that the people of the states have added to their constitutions in order to protect patients and people who are injured by medical negligence,” he points out. “And so, there’s a very high-handed, top-down, Washington-knows-best quality.”

Broad impact

The bill would apply to a broad range of claims, including injuries caused by medical negligence, defective medical devices, dangerous pharmaceuticals and nursing home neglect and abuse. 

The bill sets a federal cap on damages and a statute of limitations for these cases. King says the law is needed to “preserve fiscal sanity and federal health policy.”

The measure would apply to people in federal health care programs, which opponents argue would disproportionately affect people with federal marketplace insurance plans, those covered by Medicare and Medicaid, as well as veterans and service members. 

Supporters of the bill say it would reduce frivolous medical lawsuits and excessive jury awards, and help bring down provider costs. 

But Clancy contends it wouldn’t have much impact.

“Research suggests that the kinds of reforms they’re pushing, like damage caps, don’t really save a lot of money,” he stresses. “Medical malpractice probably accounts for less than 2.5 percent of all health-care costs, so there’s actually not much money to be saved in this area.”

According to Johns Hopkins University, preventable medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer. 

Opponents of HR 1215 include the Institute for Policy Innovation, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and the American Bar Association.

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