After years of trying, Republicans in Congress may finally be making headway about placing limits on noneconomic damages in some malpractice cases.
The issue for doctors is whether passage of the bill being considered will change how they practice medicine. Bill backers think it will lessen the use of defensive medicine. Others, however, raise doubts about the measure’s long-term impact on physicians.
“Doctors like to talk about how tort reform can help ease their defensive medicine fears, but I don’t believe it,” says Richard G. Roberts, MD, JD, a physician and faculty member at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
A House bill places a $250,000 noneconomic damages cap in cases where coverage for the insured was provided by or subsidized by the federal government. The Congressional Budget Office estimates this would save the federal government roughly $50 billion from 2017 through 2027 due to lower payouts for Medicare- and Medicaid-related cases.
The measure would not preempt state damage cap laws. Both provisions were included to appease conservatives, who have opposed such federal proposals on the grounds that insurance was a state matter.
Medical groups such as the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the trade group for malpractice insurance issuers, the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA), all support the bill, which passed the House and awaits Senate action.
The bill requires that parties found liable will be responsible for paying damages proportional to their responsibility in a case. It also imposes a statute of limitations of three years for bringing legal action after an injury or a one-year limit after a claimant discovers an injury, and sets limits on attorney contingency fees.