As the cost of malpractice insurance for doctors continues to rise, the Republican-led Congress has decided to step in and start making changes. The proposed changes would benefit the health care industry at the possible expense of patients. As both sides in this discussion start to raise their voices in this heated debate about medical malpractice, it helps to understand what is exactly going on and put things into the proper perspective.
Lawmakers Chiseling Away At The Affordable Care Act (ACA)
It has become apparent to Republican lawmakers that a comprehensive repeal of the ACA is going to be extremely difficult. In response, GOP lawmakers surprised the Democrats in Congress by introducing legislation that would cap the amount that can be awarded for a malpractice lawsuit, and shield health care providers from certain types of personal injury lawsuits resulting from medical issues.
The newest set of laws that recently passed through the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee by a narrow 18 to 17 margin looks to cap all non-income related malpractice awards to $250,000. Many states already have laws in place limiting pain and suffering awards to $250,000, and the GOP says that this new rule would allow states to set their own threshold. However, opponents of the rule say that the wording actually prevents states from allowing awards to go above $250,000 for any medical malpractice case.
It is important to note that there is no limit on the amount that can be awarded for medical costs and lost income. These new regulations would only apply to people on Medicare, Medicaid, veterans using the Veteran’s Administration health system, people on an ACA marketplace plan, people on COBRA plans, and anyone using a health savings account. Anyone who uses private insurance or an employer-sponsored health insurance plan that is not from the ACA marketplace will not be limited by these rules.
Doctors Receiving More Protection
A common practice for a medical malpractice lawsuit is to name the doctor who performed a procedure using a defective device, or the doctor who prescribed medication that later turned out to be harmful. Under these new laws, any doctor who properly uses FDA-approved medical devices or medications will be shielded from being part of a personal injury lawsuit.
While critics say that this new rule would limit the actions patients can take against a negligent doctor, supporters of the new law insist that this change will hold the proper parties responsible for defective medical equipment or harmful medication without getting the doctor involved. American physician associations spent $6 million last year lobbying for these very kinds of changes to malpractice lawsuit regulations, and it looks like their investment may pay off.
Is This Change Really Easing The Burden From Lawsuits?
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 34 percent of the population is on Medicare or Medicaid, while 49 percent uses employer-sponsored insurance. While these numbers do not separate the number of people who are on employer-sponsored plans using the ACA marketplace, it does give a sense of just how many people would be affected by these new laws.
The Democrats in Congress are arguing that these new regulations will make it difficult for the poor and elderly to rely on medical malpractice lawsuits to protect themselves from negligent doctors. Judging by the numbers, it can be easy to see why the Democrats would come up with that assertion. The GOP maintains that its sole goal is to reduce the cost burden that malpractice lawsuits put on the country’s health care system as the number of court rulings exceeding $250,000 in states where there is no cap continues to grow.
Since the GOP has not managed to repeal the ACA completely, it is attempting to alter the law one piece at a time. These changes to the malpractice guidelines have been circulating around the Republican party ever since the ACA became law, and now the party gets its chance to see if the rest of the country is interested in these changes. While this legislation has passed the House, many experts are predicting that the battle to get these ACA changes through the Senate may be one that the GOP cannot win.