The House Energy and Commerce Committee has reported to the full House legislation that would cap non-economic damages in malpractice cases at $250,000 and set other restrictions on lawsuits against doctors.
The House panel voted 30-20 to approve the measure despite Democratic efforts to slow it down by offering a number of amendments, and despite the fact that even some House Republicans are concerned about it on constitutional grounds.
For example, Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., voices concerns about the constitutional issue.
\”This preempts probably every (law) but California\’s and Texas\’ medical liability laws, so it is very clear that it violates states\’ rights,\” Rep. Terry says.
H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011, has passed the House Judiciary Committee, and may be taken up by the full House before Memorial Day.
The panel acted after receiving a legal opinion commissioned by the American Tort Reform Association, a unit of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The ATRA says the bill is consistent with the Commerce Clause, the 10th Amendment guarantees of equal protection and due process, and the right to a jury trial – conclusions based on more than 100 years of Supreme Court precedent and consistent rejection of federal constitutional challenges to state medical liability reforms.
An ATRA spokesman says the paper “puts an end to any serious concerns or questions about the constitutionality of federal medical liability reform.”
The opinion says medial liability laws of states will not be impacted by H.R. 5 and states can enact laws after it is enacted.
H.R. 5 would not impact states such as Mississippi, which has enacted a $500,000 limit on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases, or Maryland, where the noneconomic damage cap applicable to medical liability claims currently stands at $680,000 and increases $15,000 each year.
The opinion also says the legislation would not impact laws in states such as Indiana, Nebraska, or Virginia, which have chosen to place aggregate limits on compensatory damages in medical liability lawsuits.