GOP Health Care Bill Would Make Malpractice Suits Harder to Win

Medical device industry has mixed feelings

A bill drafted by House Republicans as part of their plan to replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) aims to impose new limits on lawsuits involving care covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or private health insurance subsidized by the PPACA, according to an article in The New York Times.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said the bill would limit “frivolous lawsuits that unnecessarily drive up health care costs.”

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the bill would reduce federal budget deficits by nearly $50 billion over 10 years. Under the bill, the CBO said, doctors would be required to slightly reduce their use of diagnostic tests and other services that they perform to reduce their exposure to lawsuits. Doctors have long said that such “defensive medicine” adds to the cost of care.

The House bill would set a $250,000 limit on “noneconomic damages,” which include compensation for pain and suffering, although states could set different limits.

The bill would not limit a patient’s ability to recover economic damages for medical expenses or lost earnings, according to the Times. If more than one defendant were responsible for an injury, the jury would award damages against each one in proportion to the share of responsibility.

The bill also says that doctors who prescribe a drug or medical device “approved, licensed, or cleared by the Food and Drug Administration” may not be named in a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer or seller of the product. The bill provides similar protection for pharmacists who fill prescriptions. The bill would restrict contingency fees that lawyers can charge for representing plaintiffs in health care lawsuits.

The House bill is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the American Health Care Association (a trade group for nursing homes), but manufacturers of medical devices have mixed feelings about it, the Times says.

“We support the overall intent of the bill, to reduce litigation burdens on the health care system,” said Greg Crist, a spokesman for the Advanced Medical Technology Association, which represents device makers. “But some of our members are concerned that the bill could actually have the opposite effect and could increase burdens on manufacturers by insulating doctors and other health care providers from any liability related to devices.”

Source: The New York Times; April 15, 2017.