On December 14, the Senate approved, 79-14, the Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act (H.R. 2419), a bill to reauthorize the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (P.L. 107-171), after agreeing, 78-12, to a cloture motion to end debate and vote on a substitute amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). The substitute amendment is the text of a bill approved by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee on October 25 (see The Source, 10/26/07). The House initially approved H.R. 2419 on July 27 (see The Source, 7/27/07).
During consideration of the bill, the Senate rejected, 41-53, an amendment by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) that would have capped non-economic malpractice awards against a single institution at $250,000 in health care lawsuits involving the provision of obstetrical or gynecological goods or services affecting interstate commerce in towns of 20,000 people or fewer.
Sen. Gregg said, “We have a real crisis in rural America today. There is a significant shortage of doctors who deliver babies. This is purely a function of one fact, and that is that the trial lawyer bar has been so aggressive in pursuing doctors who deliver babies with lawsuits, they have essentially created a cost-of-liability insurance for doctors who deliver babies OB/GYNs that is so high that a doctor practicing in a rural community, who is there to help women having children deliver those babies safely, that type of doctor cannot make ends meet.” He continued, “It is not a big amendment in the sense of dramatic health care changes for the world or for the United States, generally, but it is a big amendment if you are a woman whose family works on a farm and you want to have a child because hopefully, if this amendment is adopted you are going to be able to see a doctor without having to drive four or five hours maybe through a snowstorm, and that is important. It is important to that person, and it should be something we would do as a matter of decency and fairness and especially as a matter of good public policy relative to health care in this country.”
Speaking in opposition to the amendment, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) told the story of a constituent who had a birth-injured son and sought damages in excess of the amount that would have been allowed under Sen. Gregg’s amendment: “Why on Earth do senators in this body want to tell a woman like that: Too bad, no help, sorry. It is wrong…Everyone here says: Oh, we are so family friendly. We have family values. Well, I would like to think we have family values that extend to a woman such as Donna, to a mother such as Donna, to a loving family such as her family, who, yes, wanted to buy a van so it was possible for her to take her son in and to give her son a decent life…Anyone who votes for this amendment is saying to the women in rural America: You don’t matter. So they can couch it as an attack on trial lawyers, they can do that all they want, but it is about the woman, the mom, who has been mistreated in this fashion. If we want to deal with issues such as malpractice insurance, count me in. If we want to make sure some made-up case is thrown out of court, I am with you. And, by the way, there are already laws to cover that. But don’t come here and say how wonderful you are being to the women of rural America by imposing a cap on what they could collect when they are damaged, when they are made sterile by a mistake, when a child gets brain damage because of a mistake, because of a mix-up. That is not right.”