The danger of capping medical malpractice damages

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The bill introduced in the House of Representatives as HR 1215 is innocuously titled, “Protecting Access to Care Act.” But the main purpose of the proposed law is to cap noneconomic damage awards at $250,000 if a medical provider is federally supported or the doctor accepts federal subsidies through Medicare and Medicaid.

These noneconomic damages are awarded to compensate for pain and suffering when someone is seriously injured or dies as a result of medical malpractice. For the family of someone who dies, these damages often come as little comfort and cannot ever fully offset a loss.

How many people are affected by medical malpractice? Three recent reports put the number at more than 200,000 deaths caused by medical error annually. Dr. Kevin Kavanagh, an author of one of these reports, expresses concern that “Despite having knowledge to prevent adverse events – many health systems do not adequately invest in patient safety to put well-known safety improvement strategies in place.”

Medical malpractice claims are sometimes what is takes to finally prompt changes. The new legislation puts a damper on these cases.The effects of the bill are broader than many realize and come with unintended consequences.

Broader scope than many realize

We are concerned that many people do not understand the broad scope of this legislation. Our practice often includes representing veterans who have been harmed by mistakes that occur at the VA. This bill could restrict these members of our armed service and their families from fully recovering when there are VA accidents.

Unintended consequences

Medicare and Medicaid would actually be deprived of revenue. How is this possible? Anyone who is awarded money as medical reimbursement in a malpractice lawsuit must pay back Medicare or Medicaid for the costs of care and treatment.

Two standards of care

Those who receive medical treatment through federal-funded providers and physicians (as a result of military service, age or limited income) deserve the same standard of care as those who privately finance their treatment through employer-provided or marketplace health insurance.

The instant change in life caused by a medical error or misdiagnosis can be drastic. Imagine your mother or father didn’t receive a prompt diagnosis of cancer and died because the delay left no treatment options available. Or you go through a painful surgery only to find that the wrong limb or organ had been operated on/removed. What dollar figure should be placed on pain and suffering? Shouldn’t this determination be left to a jury based on the facts in an individual case?

If this bill goes into law, legal representation to fight abuses within the system will be harder to obtain for those who receive care from federally-funded providers or doctors. Please take action and contact your local member of congress to ask that he or she oppose this bill.

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