The Bill is H. R. 1215 – and Rep. Steve King (R – IA)) gave it the title “Protecting Access to Health Care Act of 2017”. For starters it is interesting to note that at the same time H. R. 1215 was introduced Congressman King and some of his Republican colleagues were trying to cancel health insurance for somewhere between 10 million and 20 million Americans who had coverage for their families under the Affordable Care Act.
The Huffington Post reports that “Congress Moves To Punish Anyone Using The ACA And Medicare”
On February 28, 2017, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee will markup and vote on a rushed piece of legislation, H.R. 1215, covering anyone who receives health care through a “federal program, subsidy, or tax benefit.” At a minimum, that means the Affordable Care Act, veteran and servicemember health plans, Medicare and Medicaid (i.e., the elderly, poor and disabled). Beyond this, the full scope is unclear because the bill has not been examined in a single legislative hearing.
According to H.R. 1215, punishment would begin if you (or your child or loved one) were harmed by an unsafe hospital or nursing home, in some cases injured by an unsafe drug or medical device, or even sexually abused by a doctor. If you tried to seek compensation or accountability in court, you would be forced into an inferior and cruel system of justice created just for you by lobbyists and career politicians in Washington DC.
This bill, H.R. 1215, the so-called “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017” (more like the Protecting Access to Unsafe Care Act of 2017) is the brainchild of congressional Republicans who say they want government out of health care. Ironically, this bill is nothing if not federal mandates, including eliminating civil justice rights guaranteed by state governments. These mandates include taking power away from local juries to decide individual cases, and consolidating that power in the hands of DC politicians.
This Bill will promote more unsafe medical care, more injuries and deaths from bad doctors and hopsitals and it will increase the profits of the insurance industry.
Let’s take a closer look at H. R. 1215 ad see what exactly it would do to “protect access to health care”.
Section 2 (a)(1) res:
EFFECT ON HEALTH CARE ACCESS AND COSTS.— Congress finds that the current civil justice system is adversely affecting patient access to health care services, better patient care, and cost efficient health care, in that the health care liability system without reform is a costly and inefficient mechanism for resolving claims of health care liability and compensating injured patients, and is a deterrent to the sharing of information among health care professionals which impedes efforts to improve patient safety and quality of care.
At least 300,000 patients die each year from negligent doctors and hospitals. The shocking truth is that the risk of dying from an avoidable medical error is one of our country’s greatest health risks according to “Spotlight: The Chance of Dying Due To a Medical Error“, July 11, 2016. So Rep. King is correct that there is an urgent need to “improve patient safety and quality of care “. Unfortunately his Bill doesn’t do anything to lessen the death toll and instead provides a money windfall to the insurance industry.
H. R. 1215 disrespects the 7th Amendment to the Constitution and the decision of a jury composed of people in the community about what a careless doctor or hospital should pay to an individual for their damages. Non-economic damages are limited to $250,000. A young man paralyzed for life would be eligible only for no more than $250,000 of damages for his pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. The facial disfigurement for life of a young woman would be “capped” at $250,000.
H. R. 1215 limits the attorneys fees for the patient’s attorney. The limitations imposed will not result in injured patients getting more money, it will mean that lawyers will not take their cases because they can’t afford to do so. The contingency fee lawyer does not get paid until the end of the case and then only if they win and recover money for the patient. That usually means that the patient’s lawyer will not be paid for a period of 2 to 3 years while they’re working on the case. In addition, the lawyer must advance costs for experts and other litigation expenses which are usually in the range of $50,000 to $100,000. Lawyers who take medical negligence cases turn down nine out of 10 meritorious cases because the risks are too great and the expenses too much. H. R. 1215 will result in even fewer cases.
There is no such limitation on the attorneys fee for the insurance company lawyers who represent the hospitals and doctors who caused the harm. They can charge anything they want and they do. But the lawyer for the patient who takes the case on the basis that he or she will only be paid if they collect money in the case, and must gamble that they can win in trial would be limited to a very low fee if this law is passed. That is called a “cap on attorneys fees”. Limiting the attorneys fee for the patient who was injured by a negligent doctor or hospital doesn’t improve healthcare. What it does is make it much harder for a patient find an attorney when they have suffered a serious injury from a careless or even reckless doctor or hospital.
The Center for Justice & Democracy Fact Sheet on H.R. 1215 exposes H. R. 1215 for what it is:
· A federally-mandated across-the-board $250,000 “cap” on compensation for “non-economic” injuries (like paralysis, trauma, reproductive harm), which would be mandated in states even where such caps are unconstitutional.
· A federally-mandated statute of limitations – the time limit for someone to file a meritorious lawsuit – which is more restrictive than a majority of state laws.
· Federal repeal of state collateral source rules, meaning a wrongdoer can reduce their obligation to compensate a patient by the amount of disability, workers compensation or other insurance received, to which a patient has a right.
· Federal repeal of state joint and several liability laws, meaning that 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.
· A federally-mandated prohibition against a severely-injured patient receiving a full jury award in a lump sum, leaving the patient vulnerable and undercompensated while the insurance company gets to sit on the money and pocket the interest.
· Federal interference with an individual’s right to contract with their own attorney on fees (while the insurance company or hospital that committed malpractice has no such restriction).
· A federally-mandated ban on including a hospital, nursing home or health care provider in a case against a drug company over an unsafe drug, even if the provider negligently prescribed or administered the drug and is jointly responsible for causing injury or death.
· Federal replacement of rights guaranteed by every state government. Most every provision in H.R. 1215 would override individual rights guaranteed by states, only allowing state laws to survive that are more harmful to patients.
The truth of the matter is that what Rep. King wants to do with H.R. 1215 is put more money in the pockets of the insurance industry, protect careless and incompetent doctors and hospitals, and put trial lawyers out of business who take great risks to hold the wrongdoers accountable.
Are 300,000 deaths each year from avoidable medical errors acceptable? There is no dispute that this is occurring and that the deaths are completely avoidable and are the result of careless and incompetent healthcare providers. The insurance industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the medical industry are the ones that provide campaign funds for members of Congress who support this type of legislation. Trial lawyers are the ones who represent regular people who suffer an avoidable injuries at the hands of an incompetent doctor, and trial lawyers provide campaign funds to support members of Congress who protect people rather than the profits of huge insurance companies .
For more reading on this topic I suggest you read
“Elder Abuse Protections Will Be Gutted By H.R. 1215 – CALL YOUR CONGRESSPERSON! by of Stebner & Associates.
A resident of Honolulu, Hawaii, Wayne Parson is an Injury Attorney that has dedicate his life to improving the delivery of justice to the people of his community and throughout the United States. He is driven to make sure that the wrongful, careless or negligent behavior that caused his clients' injury or loss does not happen to others.