House Republicans have spent a long time damning Barack Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act. With Donald Trump in office and a majority in both chambers of Congress, the right-wing has already begun confidently chipping away at patient rights and protection. A newly-introduced bill, H.R. 1215, proposes punishing Americans who aren’t privately insured by capping medical malpractice limits.
The bill, also knowing as the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017, was amended during a markup and approved by a House committee at the end of February.
Representative Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia described H.R. 1215 as being modeled on a statute enacted by the California Legislature in 1975. Called the Medical Injury Compensation Act (MICRA), the law capped non-economic malpractice payouts to $250,000. The new bill would emplace the same cap and could infringe on the rights of states to set their own healthcare dictates.
The rationale underlying the Republican-led move is to reduce the American deficit. The bill, which was authored by Representative Steve King of Iowa, is being touted as having the potential to save the federal government $62 billion over the next decade. Since the federal government is involved in insuring individuals and paying for certain healthcare provider products and services, it is adversely affected by malpractice lawsuits brought on by its customers.
H.R. 1215 could affect the recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Health Care Act, and veterans and serving soldiers.
Joanne Doroshow of The Huffington Post compiled a list of consequences of the bill. They include, but are no means limited to:
- A federal statute of limitations, which restrict injured patients from filing a lawsuit after a certain period of time.
- “Wrongdoers” can reduce the amount they have to pay a patient based on how much insurance or disability money the victim had already received from their own providers.
- “Federal repeal of state joint and several liability laws, meaning the injured patient – not other fully responsible wrongdoers – would have to cover the cost of an injury if one of the fully-responsible wrongdoers cannot pay.”
- Immunity for hospitals, nursing homes, and drug providers in lawsuits against drug companies “over an unsafe drug, even if the provider negligently prescribed or administered the drug and is jointly responsible for causing injury or death.”
Critics of H.R. 1215 believe the legislation is better for insurance companies and big corporations than it is for citizens and constituents.
When Steve King said he wanted the act to “throw blame out the window,” Florida Democrat Ted Deutch responded by saying, “We cast blame. That’s how the justice system works.”
John Conyers, Jr., of Michigan – who is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he believed, “the majority [Republicans] is now rushing to markup as part of their chaotic attempt to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act even though it will directly impede Americans’ access to safe quality medical care.”
Several years ago, a petition in California to repeal MICRA was rejected by voters. The debate on the West Coast centered around many of the same talking points now echoing through the House in Washington, D.C. Doctors, hospitals, and insurers supported the “Vote No” endeavor, while trial attorneys and former victims of medical malpractice tried to buoy the ballot to success.
The difference between MICRA and H.R. 1215 is that the latter specifically targets individuals who are insured by the federal government while also sticking its nose into state courtrooms.