Senate Republicans Fail Again in Efforts to Cap Medical Malpractice Awards

May 8, 2006

Senate Republican leaders have again failed in their efforts to place limits on medical malpractice pain and suffering awards.

Senate Democrats successfully stymied two Republican bills, one a broad bill affecting medical malpractice claims against all providers and the other, a measure dealing only with obstetricians and gynecologists.

Republicans sought to cap pain and suffering damages at $750,000. Claimants would still have been able to recover for lost wages and medical care.

Both bills fell short of the 60 votes needed for them to be advanced for debate by the full Senate when a handful of Republicans joined Democrats in opposition. The 60 votes were needed to invoke cloture on the Medical Care Access Protection Act and the Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies Access to Care Acts as the measures were titled.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), himself a physician, lamented the Senate’s failure to advance the bills.

“Five times in the last four years, Senate Democrats have obstructed meaningful medical liability reform that would have ensured access to quality, affordable health care,” Frist said.

Frist and many Republicans maintain that so-called frivolous lawsuits force doctors out of business, drive up medical costs and ultimately jeopardize the health of all Americans.

“It’s unfortunate that Democrats have chosen to help line the pockets of trial lawyers rather than to help meet the health care needs of this nation,” Frist charged.

But Democrats and a few Republicans maintain such caps protect insurance company profits more than they do doctors or patients.

“These measures do not represent a serious attempt to improve health care or civil justice in the United States,” said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Reid said both bills contain “the same one-size-fits-all cap on damages that this body has rejected time and time again. Both contain the same unjustified protections for hospitals, HMOs and insurance companies from previously discarded bills. In fact, these proposals are virtually identical to legislation we turned aside three times last Congress. These bills are the same old song.”

Reid maintained that there is a health care crisis in this country, but it has nothing to do with tort laws. “It is a crisis when 46 million Americans have no health insurance. It is a crisis when health care is too costly for average Americans. It is a crisis when medical errors are the sixth leading cause of death in America. But not a single provision in this legislation will provide health insurance to the uninsured, lower healthcare costs, or make patients safer,” The democrat stated.

“We should not reward insurance companies making record profits. We should help doctors by reforming the insurance industry rather than undermining the legal rights of seriously injured malpractice victims,” Reid added.

Later this week, the Senate is scheduled to return to the matter of health insurance in the form of a bill that would permit small businesses to pool together to purchase low cost group insurance policies that would be exempt from state mandated benefits and regulations.

Democrats, as well as some within the insurance industry including independent agents, oppose the bill, which is sponsored by rep. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).

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