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A Primer on the Federal Medical Malpractice Bill, H.R. 1215


H.R. 1215 – Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017 is a bill that would limit the amount of “non-economic” damages a plaintiff would be able to receive in a medical malpractice case to $250,000. Non-economic damages are losses due to suffering, such as a loss of a limb or family member; while economic damages cover medical costs and loss of wages. H.R. 1215, which was sponsored by Iowa Republican Steve King, passed the House on June 29, 2017 and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill proposes that states with current caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases may keep those caps, but states without such limits must follow the federal cap of $250,000, even if damage limitations are prohibited by state law. About half of all states currently have some cap for non-economic damages.

Proponents of the bill, including many insurance and provider groups, site the opportunity to lower overall healthcare costs. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the move could reduce medical liability premiums and, subsequently, overall healthcare costs. Opponents, including consumer protection advocates, site the limitation as too low for medical negligence cases, and they also object to other provisions in the bill that call for a three-year statute of limitations for consumers to bring a lawsuit after an injury, or a one-year limit from the date that the consumer discovers or should have discovered the injury.

Unfortunately for the bill’s proponents, H.R. 1215 was packaged with the American Health Care Act, which failed to pass the Senate this month. It is unclear when the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the bill for review.