House Republicans passed a bill yesterday that would implement several notable tort reform features on a federal level. The bill, H.R. 1215 Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017, passed largely on partisan lines, with the notable exception of 19 centrist and Liberty Caucus Republicans opposing the resolution.
The bill would impose a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, while also implementing a statute of limitations of three years from the date of injury or one year from the date the alleged injury is discovered. While neither of these reforms are anything new or particularly unusual within the broader tort reform discussion, what is notable is that this bill would, for the first time, implement them at a federal level. The bill would apply to patients who are on Medicare or Medicaid, (i.e. where care was provided by a federal program) but also governs any lawsuit in which the coverage was “subsidized” by the federal government. Given that employee provided coverage constitutes one of the largest tax breaks in the code, it would likely fall under this category of subsidized coverage, meaning that a vast percentage of the population would be affected by this bill.
Debate continues to swirl around the true cost of frivolous lawsuits and medical malpractice abuse, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that H.R. 1215, if passed, would reduce deficits by $50 billion dollars by 2017, and the American Medical Association, while opposed to the AHCA generally, has come out in support of this particular bill. On the other hand, Democrats, libertarian leaning Republicans, and civil liberties advocates stress that the bill not only limits the rights of victims but also violates the legal principles of states’ rights and trial by a jury of one’s peers.
H.R. 1215 represents one portion of one prong of the Republican plan to repeal and replace the ACA (“Obamacare”). The first two parts have to do with passing a reconciliation bill and updating HHS rules while the third, the one represented by this bill, focuses on specific legislation like tort reform. In the end this will probably be one of several related bills passed by the house focusing on spending reduction and legal reform. Whether it will make it through the Senate and onto the President’s desk remains to be seen.