Medical Liability Reform Bill Earns Backing of AAFP

March 22, 2016 02:30 pm News Staff

A House bill that would reform the nation's flawed liability tort system -- a major expense for primary care physicians through medical liability insurance -- has earned the AAFP's support.

[Stethoscope on top of gavel]

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., introduced the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act last week to reduce the costs of medical liability by limiting non-economic damage awards and setting a three-year statute of limitations in health care lawsuits. AAFP Board Chair Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., expressed the Academy's support for the bill in a March 21 letter(1 page PDF) to Franks.

"The AAFP recognizes that the nation’s medical liability system continues to restrict patients' access to care and supports the HEALTH Act's significant reforms that will help repair the flawed medical liability system, reduce the growth of health care costs and preserve everyone's access to medical care," the letter reads.

The bill would cap non-economic damages in any health care lawsuit at $250,000 and protect existing state legislation on tort reform. It would introduce the three-year statute of limitations on medical liability cases with an exception for minors and cases of fraud. It also would limit the amount that plaintiff attorneys could receive in contingency fees.

"This bill provides a balance of tort reforms by promoting speedier resolutions to disputes, maintaining access to courts, maximizing patient recovery of damage awards with unlimited compensation for economic damages, while limiting non-economic damages to $250,000," the letter reads.

Advocates for medical liability reform argue that physicians often order unnecessary diagnostic tests to protect themselves from potential legal action.

Wergin's letter links to a 2009 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis( of tort reform initiatives and the impact they could have on health costs and patient care. Placing caps on punitive and non-economic damages, establishing a statute of limitations, and eliminating joint and several liability could reduce medical liability premiums by 10 percent, according to CBO findings.

The CBO estimated in 2009 that medical liability costs $35 billion. Research about tort reform's effect on health outcomes was mixed.

Franks' bill is being reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee.

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