House Republicans in two different committees yesterday approved a malpractice liability bill, H.R. 5 – again. H.R. 5, a proposal that aims to limit the liability of the health industry and leave injured patients without an adequate avenue for redress, previously passed the full House in March. This time, lawmakers on the House Energy & Commerce and Judiciary Committees presented the proposal as a fix to the nation’s budget. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The bill, as we’ve repeatedly said, remains an expensive proposal that will cost lives and money while shielding the entire medical industry – drug and device manufacturers, hospitals, doctors, and nursing homes – from its own reckless conduct.
By restricting patients’ access to court, H.R. 5 will force medical malpractice victims and their families to turn to public, taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and disability benefits for medical care and other financial assistance, because the negligent wrongdoers would be shielded from liability.
This unintended consequence would increase health care costs.
If nothing else, the House majority should pay attention to the money wasted when patients are unnecessarily injured by egregious medical errors or defective medical products. The Department of Health and Human Services pays $4.4 billion a year for the consequences of medical errors.
Some conservatives have even cautioned lawmakers about the bill’s effect on state laws. For decades, states have written their own laws for deciding negligence cases, including medical malpractice claims. A one-size-fits-all-policy on a traditionally state matter would wreak havoc on state laws.
Despite the numerous concerns and calls to drop this bill, the House majority’s ill-conceived and inaptly-named proposal – the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely, Healthcare Act – is expected to go up for another House floor vote. (You may wonder why there would be a second House vote on the same bill; this time, it is included in the FY2013 budget reconciliation recommendations, which it what both committees marked up yesterday.)
Indeed, it may fly through the House yet again, but we will have to rally the Senate to turn its back on this shameless and dangerous gift to industry.
Christine Hines is Public Citizen’s consumer and civil justice legal counsel.