- Lawmakers in the House voted 218-210 this week to pass the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017, paving the way for the potential of major tort reforms this year.
- H.R. 1215 would cap noneconomic damages in malpractice litigation at $250,000 and limit the fees lawyers can charge in healthcare lawsuits. It also protects providers from liability in product liability lawsuits involving an FDA-approved drug or medical device.
- Sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the bill would apply to lawsuits where a patient’s coverage was provided through a federal program, subsidy or tax benefit. That includes patients insured under the Affordable Care, veterans, service members, civil servants and Medicare and Medicare beneficiaries.
The bill is designed to protect providers from superfluous lawsuits and unnecessary costs and would preempt state laws with higher limits on damages or no limits at all. According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, the measure would save taxpayers $50 billion over the next 10 years.
American Medical Assocation President Dr. David Barbe praised the House action, calling H.R. 1215 “an important first step toward fixing” a broken medical liability system, adding, "By redirecting healthcare spending from defensive medicine, additional dollars can go to patient care, safety and quality improvements, and to health information technology systems that would help improve care and outcomes.”
Republicans in Congress are eyeing 2017 as a major year for tort reform. Though clinicians will likely champion H.R. 1215, some have questioned whether the reform is necessary. According to Doctors Company, a major malpractice insurer, the rate of malpractice has been halved since 2003. Tort reform has been on the mind of HHS Secretary Tom Price for 20 years so a Republican-controlled Congress allows for such reforms to be made.
President Donald Trump's administration also expressed his support for the legislation. His fiscal year 2018 budget proposal includes a provision that would alter the collateral source rule to allow evidence of a plaintiff’s income from other sources to be introduced at trial.
In addition to H.R. 1215, three other tort reform bills are under review. H.R. 720, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, would discourage the filing of frivolous claims by requiring mandatory sanctions on those who do and eliminating the ability of plaintiffs and their lawyers to avoid sanctions by withdrawing claims after a motion to sanction.
Another bill, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, H.R. 985, would make it more difficult for plaintiffs’ attorneys to file class action lawsuits by requiring that all claimants in the class experienced the same type and degree of injury.
Finally, the Innocent Party Protection Act, H.R. 725, would let defendants sued in state courts remove the case to the federal level if the plaintiff and defendant are from different states and more than $75,000 in damages is on the line.