Congressional Bill HR 1215 passed through the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee with a narrow 18-17 vote on February 28, 2017, meaning it will soon be debated in the House of Representatives. This bill, ironically called the Protecting Access to Care Act, proposes to “protect” access to healthcare by eliminating the civil justice rights of any and all patients who are insured under veterans or military plans, Medicare and/or Medicaid, and those with Affordable Care Act plans subsidized through the Federal Marketplace. If that means you or someone you love, here are three of the biggest things about this bill that should have you concerned.
Malpractice Liability Cap
Most concerning, the bill proposes to put a $250,000 cap on what are referred to as “non-economic damages.” “Economic damages” are things like medical bills, lost wages, and lost future wages—things we can easily put into dollars and cents. “Non-economic damages” are things like pain and suffering, but also things like the “cost” of effects like blindness, paralysis, or loss of a limb. This would mean, for example, that a doctor who blinded someone during brain surgery would only be responsible for paying $250,000 of compensation for causing life-altering damage, perhaps to a family breadwinner or even a child. These caps would apply even in states who have found these caps unconstitutional.
Collateral Source Rules
The act would also repeal all collateral source rules at the state level. A collateral source rule exists to ensure an injured person’s right to fair compensation is protected. Right now, if someone is injured by a hospital and her insurance pays her medical bills, the doctor doesn’t get to claim the person was already partially compensated for their injuries when the time comes for the doctor to pay. But that’s because collateral source rules exist. If those rules are repealed, payments from entities like Social Security, workers compensation, and even private insurers can be seen as “compensation” that reduces the amount the negligent party has to pay, even if the patient has to pay back her insurance company with any damages she received from the doctor.
Joint and Several Liability
HR 1215 would also repeal joint and several liability laws. These laws mean that, in situations where multiple parties share responsibility for someone’s injury, the injured person can recover the full cost of their claim from only one of the responsible parties. For example, if a hospital and a medical device manufacturer are both responsible for a faulty joint replacement, the injured person can collect the full amount from one or the other, and leave them to sort out the balance between themselves. That means the injured person isn’t waiting around with mounting medical costs while the two companies fight about who owes how much. Without joint and several liability laws, that’s exactly where some patients would find themselves.
The bill also proposes other infringements on the civil rights of injured patients, like enacting a one year time limit for filing lawsuits, and preventing patients from suing doctors or hospitals that gave them unsafe drugs. We strongly encourage you to sign this online petition and let Congress know you are against HR 1215. This act would not only take away the civil liberties of millions of Americans, it would also hold medical care providers significantly less responsible for providing quality care.
Have you been injured as a result of medical malpractice? Every Indiana medical malpractice lawyer at Christie Farrell Lee & Bell has experience and can help you explore your options.