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House Passes Bill to Limit Damage Awards in Medical Malpractice Cases

The U.S. House has passed a bill that would limit non-economic damage awards to $250,000 in medical malpractice lawsuits and impose a statute of limitations...
March 17, 2003

The U.S. House has passed a bill that would limit non-economic damage awards to $250,000 in medical malpractice lawsuits and impose a statute of limitations on the filing of such cases. H.R. 5, the "Help, Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare" (HEALTH) Act of 2003, was approved by a 229-196 vote. H.R. 5 also caps punitive damage awards at $250,000, or two times the economic damages, whichever is greater. The bill now faces a tougher challenge in the Senate, despite the strong support of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), a former heart surgeon. Frist has placed the medical liability bill at the top of his legislative agenda and has put the issue on the Senate schedule for this month. Republican leaders in the Senate have been working to win the support of moderate Democrats on the issue of tort reforms.

This legislation has prompted the American Medical Association (AMA) to shift strategy. Although the AMA recently worked with the Trial Lawyers of America to lobby for legislation allowing patients to file lawsuits against health insurers, the AMA now says that reforming liability laws is at the top of its legislative agenda.

What It Means to Agents:  The passage of H.R. 5 is a step in the right direction. The bill will certainly help ease the pressure of high medical malpractice awards, but tort reform alone will not ease the problem of lack of market capacity. This has been an equal contributing factor to availability and affordability problems.

This legislation will hopefully answer such questions as who will replace the overall market capacity that had once been provided by St. Paul, and will that capacity go to the markets, states and practices where availability and affordability problems are most severe? It is only after these questions are answered that true market reform will occur.

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