Thursday, March 13, 2003

Don't be surprised if and when the malpractice caps bill passes the House. The battleground is going to be in the Senate, where the Republican majority is razor thin. Here's the text of the bill, for those of you with a lot of time on your hands.

Pushing the bill for the American Medical Association is its president, who is a doctor and lawyer. Inerestingly on the conflict of interest front, he also is a founding member of a physician liability insurance company. As a founding member, my guess is that he'd benefit from limitations on insurance exposure resulting from liability caps. If nothing else, as observed by the author of the linked article, it shows additional hidden ties between doctors and Big Insurance.

I'll make a point I've made before -- lawyers aren't asking for caps on damages in legal malpractice cases [and we are target defendants when we get sued]; why are doctors so special? Because they have their own lobby, as well as Big Insurance's lobby, pushing it.

UPDATE: Here's the story from Congressional Quarterly confirming the more difficult road the caps bill will have in the Senate. Two interesting points:

Democrats are expected to challenge the legislation on several fronts. First, they question Republicans' commitment to states' rights. They ask why Republicans who espouse a need to transfer power to the states want to impose federal caps on states that have chosen not to limit damages.

Democrats also have been challenging the fairness of caps on non-economic damages. They say that such limits harm people who do not earn a great amount of wages and would not be able to recover as many economic damages, which would remain unlimited under the bill.

Republicans talk about limiting the intrusions of the federal government when it suits their interests; when there's serious money involved, the concept of states' rights is simply ignored. Didn't Bush have as a campaign theme the goal of reducing the federal government?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Want to see video? Here's an interview for Real Player of a CQ reporter. This reporter sees this bill as possibly the start of a broader move to limit damages in all civil litigation. Apparently, there is also a patient safety bill, which would create a federally created database of medical "errors" [read: malpractice]. Guess what? Only doctors would have access to the data.

His opinion on action in the Senate? with 3 divergent approaches [Diane Feinstein wants a bill patterned on California's law; caps with exceptions for egregious cases; and of course strong caps with no exceptions]. His conclusion: it's a bit murky, and with a busy health care agenda, the Senate might not be able to hammer out an acceptable approach. He predicts that this issue will impact on the 2004 presidential race.

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