Insurers Hail Federal Med-Mal Reform Legislation; Continue to Support State Reforms

February 17, 2005

Last week, Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) introduced federal legislation that would provide assistance to medical professionals facing skyrocketing medical liability premiums. The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2005 will place a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages, joint liability and collateral source improvements, and would place limits on attorney fees.

The HEALTH Act will provide a federal solution to the medical liability crisis affecting more than 20 states across the nation, claims the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, an insurance company trade association supporting the legislation. President Bush has called on Congress to approve comprehensive medical liability reform, and the House of Representatives has passed similar legislation to the HEALTH Act at least three times in the previous Congress.

“The growing costs of medical liability insurance affect all Americans,” PCI’s Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, Carl Parks said. “PCI fully supports the efforts of Sens. Ensign and Gregg, and urges the Senate to act on their legislation as soon as possible.”

While Congress considers the federal HEALTH Act, many states continue to address the medical liability reform issue in state legislatures. PCI estimates that over 300 bills to limit noneconomic damage awards in medical liability cases – approximately the same number of bills introduced in the 2004 legislative sessions – will be heard by state legislatures this year.

Medical liability reform were recently passed in Georgia with the enactment of a new law to cap pain and suffering awards. The legislation was signed by Gov. Perdue yesterday and becomes effective immediately. The key provisions of the Georgia legislation include:

· Limits noneconomic damages against to $350,000 for a single defendant and $1.05 million for multiple defendants in medical malpractice cases.

· Limits the liability of emergency room doctors by requiring injured parties to show “gross negligence” on behalf of the provider to recover noneconomic damages.

· An expansion of the Georgia Composite State Board of Medical Examiners authority to govern and discipline “bad doctors.”

· The establishment of qualification levels for expert witnesses to have before testifying.

· A provision allowing a physician to “make a statement of regret” to family members without that statement being used against the doctor in a lawsuit.

· A provision allowing a jury to penalize a party from a frivolous suit and to award damages in proportion to responsibility.

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