While much of the national focus on health care reform has been on efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the House of Representatives has taken additional steps to address other on-going issues affecting the cost and availability of health care in our country.
On June 28th, the House passed H.R. 1215, the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017 by a vote of 218 to 210. The vote was largely along party lines as no Democrats joined the 218 Republicans in voting in favor of the measure.
This bill establishes new federal authority governing health care lawsuits where coverage for the care was provided by a federal program (i.e. Medicare, Medicaid) or subsidized by the federal government. This includes coverage through a subsidy or tax benefit.
Proponents of the bill believe it will reduce the number of so-called nuisance lawsuits and also help to reduce the cost of malpractice insurance. One estimate suggests malpractice premiums could go down by as much as 25% if this legislation were to become law.
Some of the key components are:
- The bill would cap non-economic damages at $250,000 (i.e. pain and suffering).
- The bill would set a statute of limitations of three years after the injury or one year after the claimant discovers the injury, whichever occurs first. These time limits could be suspended under certain circumstances.
- In the event of an award of damages, liable parties would be responsible for the amount of damages directly proportional to their responsibility.
- The bill sets limits on contingency fees and allows the court to supervise the payment of damages and may restrict attorney contingency fees.
Finally, under the bill, a health care provider who prescribes, or dispenses pursuant to a prescription, a medical product approved by the Food and Drug Administration, may not be a party to a product liability lawsuit or a class action lawsuit regarding the medical product.
The bill faces an uncertain future as it moves to the Senate. The legislation will draw strong opposition from malpractice attorneys as well as product liability attorneys.
Now that the bill has passed the House, it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Click on this link to find your Senators and then go to their webpage where you will find instructions on how to communicate with them electronically. Expressions of support for this legislation would be appreciated.