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Federal bill would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases

In our last post, we mentioned caps on awards of noneconomic damages as one avenue medical providers and hospitals can look to in limiting their liability in medical and hospital malpractice cases. Limiting noneconomic damages in tort cases is a common step states have taken in an effort to reform the tort system.

Up until fairly recently, the tort reform battle has been largely fought at the state level. At present, roughly 22 states have caps on noneconomic damages. Now, however, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. The bill, the Protecting Access to Primary Care Act, would cap noneconomic damages at $250,000.

The cap would apply in cases where a plaintiff received healthcare coverage through the federal government, whether through Medicaid or Medicare, a subsidized health plan under the Affordable Care Act, or through tax-exempted employer-sponsored plans. The bill would, presumably, not apply to patients who pay completely out of pocket.  

The changes are supported by the medical community because of the positive contribution they are expected to make toward controlling the costs associated with malpractice litigation. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the measure is indeed likely to lower premiums for medical malpractice insurance, and to allow physicians to not be quite so burdened with the need to practice defensive medicine. Experts are saying, though, that the bill is likely to face significant challenges in the Senate.

We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this bill as it moves through the Senate. 

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