Medical Malpractice Reform Shows Progress--For Now

May 13, 2011

By a vote of 30 to 20, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved medical malpractice legislation supported by HR Policy Association, but the outlook for future progress is uncertain.  The Help, Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act (HEALTH Act; H.R. 5), which passed the House Judiciary Committee in February, would provide certain uniform federal standards for medical malpractice claims by capping non-economic damages at $250,000, limiting punitive damages to $250,000 or twice the economic damages and restricting attorneys' fees available to plaintiffs' attorneys.  While supporters hope that the full House will pass the measure, efforts in past Congresses have failed even when the Republicans held the majority.  One hurdle in gaining unanimous Republican support is the bill's strong preemption of state laws, which some GOP lawmakers often balk at as a perceived infringement on states' rights.  Despite President Obama's statements earlier this year that he is willing to work with Republicans to reform malpractice laws, he does not support the measure.  The President’s approach to create special "health courts" staffed by judges with expertise in medical malpractice matters has not been met with enthusiasm from Democrats or Republicans in Congress, signaling that the issue has little chance for advancing this year.  The plaintiffs' bar is opposed to both the House legislation and the President's proposal.