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House passes HR 5, including med mal cap

Yesterday, the U.S. House passed a bill that would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) as well as enact HR 5 (Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare - HEALTH - Act). HR 5 would create federal medical malpractice caps (commonly known as "tort reform").

Originally, the IPAB bill was separate from the medical malpractice caps, but House Republicans combined the bills last week. While the IPAB repeal bill (which would repeal a 15-member board that analyzes the cost of Medicare) had support from both Republicans and Democrats, the medical malpractice caps did not. Only five Democrats voted in support of the full bill.

Furthermore, the White House has threatened to veto the bill, claiming that the IPAB has not had a chance to work and that "the administration opposes placing artificial caps on malpractice awards, which will prevent patients and other claimants who have been wrongfully harmed from receiving just compensation."

Non-economic damage caps

If the bill succeeds, there would be a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages for medical malpractice lawsuits. The cap would potentially include compensation for punitive damages and the pain and suffering caused by medical malpractice.

Many states have already enacted their own versions of tort reform. However, the $250,000 cap is more stringent than the med mal caps imposed by some states. For example, in New Jersey, there is a $350,000 cap on punitive damages unless the compensatory damages (such as medical bills) are particularly large. In those cases, the cap is set at five times the compensatory damages.

The American Bar Association strongly opposes medical malpractice caps. Proponents of tort reform believe that limiting non-economic damages in med mal lawsuits will reduce malpractice insurance and fraud. However, there has been little evidence to prove that there is a link between limiting damages and the cost of malpractice insurance.

Medical malpractice lawsuits allow individuals to recover compensation when they are injured by negligent medical professionals. They also hold doctors accountable for their negligence. Perhaps most importantly, though, a med mal lawsuit is one of the only ways to stop doctors from harming others and to ensure that we receive quality care when we entrust our lives to medical professionals.

Source: HealthLeaders Media, "IPAB Repeal Bill, With Medical Rider, Heads to Full House," Margaret D. Tocknell, Mar. 21, 2012.

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