In the midst of the ongoing debate over health insurance coverage for Americans, there is concern over the revival of an older bill that puts patients at risk and limits their right to take action when they are injured. H.R. 1215, titled “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017,” would limit the rights of the more than 400,000 Americans who die or are injured each year due to medical errors.
Those in support of the bill claim it is a tort reform effort that would help control the cost of “defensive medicine.” However, what it really does is reduce the ability of injured patients and surviving family members to hold medical providers accountable for negligence.
Additionally, the bill is written in such broad a manner it would also limit the action victims could take against nursing homes, insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies and doctors accused of committing intentional torts.
Bill Overrides Current State Laws
The bill preempts and overrides individual state laws intended to protect consumers and patients, but does nothing to curb laws in place that favor medical professionals, medical device manufacturers and other health care defendants. Proponents of the bill claim it will protect doctors from nuisance lawsuits, but in actuality, its sweeping coverage extends to businesses and corporations often at fault when patients are injured by faulty medical devices and drugs, or abused in nursing homes or mental care facilities, or taken advantage of by insurance companies.
The bill also places limits on damages victims are able to recover when harmed by medical devices or drugs, or through the negligent care of a medical care provider. The limit of $250,000 on non-economic damages is arbitrary and discriminatory, especially considering there is often more than one party at fault in these cases. For instance, if a patient is injured by negligence during surgery and brings a claim against the doctor and hospital, as well as a separate claim against the insurance company for failing to cover the operation, claims shouldn't be limited by an arbitrary damage cap.
H.R. 1215 Unfairly Affects Women, Children and Others Who Lose Loved Ones
It's important to note the limits in H.R. 1215 affect non-economic damages suffered by victims of medical malpractice. Patients injured in medical treatments who have suffered injuries including loss of sight, limbs, fertility and mobility, as well as life-long pain, and permanent disfigurement will be denied access to financial support.
Furthermore, non-economic damages provide for compensation when a spouse or child dies due to negligence. The caps placed by H.R. 1215 disproportionately affect women, children and those who are at risk for suffering substantial economic loss after a loved one dies.
H.R. 1215 also puts a shorter statute of limitations on the length of time a victim has to act to three years following the date of injury or one year from the date the damage was discovered. It's difficult to predict when issues might arise after a patient is injured – especially a child patient – and an arbitrary statute of limitations interferes with the rights of those who are injured whose injuries are not immediately apparent.
The bottom line is if this bill passes, patients will suffer. Those injured by negligent medical care or products could be entitled to no more than $250,000 in compensation and juries might not even be informed of this limitation. This bill does nothing to improve the medical malpractice system and could result in hundreds of thousands of people being denied the compensation they deserve.