A new bill drafted by the House of Republicans would make it harder for older and low-income Americans to win medical malpractice lawsuits. The bill is part of the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.
The legislation would limit lawsuits involving care from government programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare, and private health plans subsidized by the Affordable Care Act, the New York Times reported.
According to the report, limits would also be placed on lawsuits for injuries involving defective drugs or medical devices.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the bill would help stem “frivolous lawsuits that unnecessarily drive up health care costs.”
Democrats and those opposed to the bill say the legislation would take away the rights from people served by federal health programs.
Republicans argue that limiting malpractice suits would reduce health costs, save taxpayers money and make healthcare more accessible. Their goal, they say, is to slow the growth of spending on healthcare.
The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan organization, said the bill would save the government $50 billion over ten years.
The bill would slightly decrease the number of specific tests doctors typically perform to reduce liability risk. Known as “defensive medicine” in the medical industry, doctors say that performing such tests and services adds to the overall cost of healthcare.
Even with cost savings, Democrats argue that the bill would deny restitution to victims of medical malpractice. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee said the restrictions would also apply to “egregious medical error cases,” such as when surgery is performed on the wrong body part.
Lawyers also argue that the bill would make it harder for victims of nursing home abuse to seek redress and would eliminate one of the most effective tools in improving nursing home care.
The draft of the bill places a $250,000 limit on “noneconomic damages” in medical malpractice suits, which would include compensation for pain and suffering. States would be permitted to set their limits.
The bill would not impact a patient’s ability to recover damages for lost earnings or medical expenses. In cases where multiple parties are found to be at fault for the injuries, the jury would award damages against each party based on their share of the responsibility.
The legislation protects sellers of defective drugs and devices and pharmacists who fill prescriptions. Contingency fees would also be restricted to help regulate lawyer fees.
The Republican bill has won the support of the American Medical Association, the American Health Care Association, and the American Hospital Association.
Still, some organizations are concerned about the unintended consequences of the bill.
“Some of our members are concerned that the bill could have the opposite effect and could increase burdens on manufacturers by insulating doctors and other health care providers from any liability related to devices,” said Greg Crist, spokesman for the Advanced Medical Technology Association.
Many of the bill’s provisions are similar to legislation introduced by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price when he served as a House member from Georgia.