The House passed the Protecting Access to Care Act, a bill that would cap settlement payments at $250,000 for “pain and suffering” compensation.
The legislation passed largely on partisan lines, 218-210, at least 18 Republicans voted against the bill.
The bill does not cap economic damages such as out-of-pocket medical expenses and lost wages. The bill would also impose other limits on attorney fees and include a three-year statute of limitations.
Congress based the medical malpractice bill off of a 1975 California law that caps “pain and suffering” compensation. States that have higher limits or no limits to this type of compensation would have to adhere to the limit imposed through the Protecting Access to Care Act.
Supporters of the law argue the bill will reduce health care costs by reducing overhead through lower malpractice insurance premiums and it will convince doctors not to practice defensive medicine which would reduce the need for unnecessary tests and procedures.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the bill could save about $50 billion over the next ten years.
Seth Seabury, a health economist at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, said, “What you’ll probably see if you adopt non-economic damage caps is a modest to small reduction in health care costs. Malpractice premiums total are very small compared to general health care expenditures. There’s a lot less spending on malpractice insurance than there is on prescription drugs or other bigger-ticket items.”
Republicans have told the public about the three phases of health care reform. The first phase would involve repealing and replacing Obamacare, the second would involve administrative action through Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and the third phase includes subsequent reforms such as the Protecting Access to Care Act.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) argued that the bill remains necessary to curbing excessive costs in health care. King explained that the bill would only apply to civil cases, whereas criminal cases such as sexual assault would not have payment caps.
White House staffers signaled that President Donald Trump would sign the bill if it were to also pass through the Senate. The White House said in a statement, “State medical liability rules often allow for unlimited non-economic damages. This encourages providers to practice defensive medicine, increases the cost of healthcare, and imposes a significant burden on healthcare providers.”