The “Protecting Access to Care Act” Threatens Patients and Nursing Home Residents

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On June 28, 2017 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Protecting Access to Care Act.”  This is a horrible piece of legislation that places a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice and nursing home injury cases at $250,000.

The House vote means that the legislation will now be taken up by the Senate for further action.  This bill would apply to all healthcare lawsuits that involve coverage provided through any federal program such as Medicare or Medicaid, as well as to coverage paid in whole or in part by a government subsidy or tax benefit.  This, of course, would mean that virtually all healthcare lawsuits in the United States would be adversely affected by this Act.

It is also designed to accomplish the twin goals of providing a tax break to health insurance companies and lowering healthcare provider’s liability exposure for monetary damages, no matter how badly a patient or nursing home resident has been harmed.

Under the Act, not only are non-economic damages capped at $250,000 (which juries are not to be advised of during their deliberations in such cases), it also limits attorney fees, modifies and in many cases significantly shortens the statute of limitations (the time within which such claims must be filed after the alleged injury), and eliminates joint and several liability of alleged negligent healthcare providers.

During floor debate, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, the notorious Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, defended the legislation as a way to lower healthcare expense by reducing what he claimed were numerous unnecessary diagnostic tests and studies ordered by physicians out of fear that a patient might sue them for medical malpractice.

Many critics of the legislation have pointed out that by limiting the financial exposure of healthcare providers for damages for negligent healthcare treatment, what will occur instead is a reduction in the quality of care provided by hospitals, physicians, nursing homes and pharmaceutical companies.  These critics argue that by significantly reducing financial exposure for negligent healthcare, it will result instead in less incentive to act safely and will increase unnecessary injuries, healthcare costs and deaths among patient populations.

Stripping away all of the political-speak regarding this proposed legislation leaves the simple fact that, if it is ultimately passed, thousands of Americans who are injured every year as a result of doctor, hospital and nursing home negligence will be limited, regardless of the severity and duration of the injury and resultant suffering, to a total award not to exceed $250,000.  That is simply cruel.

I urge each of you to contact your Senator and express your absolute opposition to this terrible legislation before it’s too late.