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Senate Considers Third Medical Malpractice Bill in 108th Congress

After two days of debate, Senate Democrats blocked consideration of a bill (S. 2207) that would limit noneconomic medical malpractice awards and attorneys’ fees in lawsuits against obstetricians-gynecologists (ob-gyns) and emergency and trauma center personnel. Sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), the Pregnancy and Trauma Care Access Protection Act would cap noneconomic medical malpractice awards at $250,000. The bill also would cap punitive damages at twice the economic damages, or at $250,000, whichever is greater. On April 7, a GOP leadership effort to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to consideration of S. 2207 failed, 49-48, 11 votes short of the 60 necessary to limit debate.

In February, the Senate considered a bill (S. 2061) to limit noneconomic medical malpractice awards and attorneys’ fees in lawsuits against only ob-gyns, but Senate Democrats blocked consideration of S. 2061 (see The Source 2/27/04). The minority party also blocked consideration of a measure (S. 11) to limit awards in lawsuits against all physicians in July (see The Source, 7/11/03). The legislation is similar to a bill (H.R. 5) the House approved in March (see The Source, 3/14/03). Under both bills, states could choose to set higher or lower caps than those in the federal law.

Sen. Gregg contended that the legislation is necessary because “regrettably, in our society today we are seeing a lot of highly qualified people in the medical professions not only doctors, but nurse midwives and ambulance professionals, EMT professionals giving up the practice which they love…because the cost of their liability insurance due to lawsuits has gotten so high there is no way they can earn enough money to cover the premiums they have to pay to purchase the liability coverage.”

Arguing that the debate should focus on the men, women, and children whose lives have been “dramatically altered” by medical errors, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) stated, “If Congress is serious about controlling rising medical malpractice insurance premiums, then we must limit the broad exemption to Federal antitrust law and promote real competition in the insurance industry, as well as attack this problem at its core by reducing medical errors across our health care system. Unfortunately, the partisan bill before us is not designed for creating a solution to a serious problem. Instead, it is designed purely for politics, and that is not only a waste of the Senate’s time and of the public’s trust; it is also a shame.”

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