Experts say federal action on medical tort reform still unlikely

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Despite a Republican president and Congress, tort reform still faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

While various states have taken action to control medical malpractice insurance rates, efforts to pass federal reforms to cap noneconomic damages in lawsuits have repeatedly failed—and experts say that’s unlikely to change.

Despite the shift in Washington where Republicans now control the House, Senate and White House, federal tort reform will still face an uphill battle, according to Physicians Practice.

While off the table in Congress for a few years, some proposed bills would introduce tort reform again, Mike Stinson, vice president of government relations at the Physician Insurers Association of America, told the publication. But the Senate, where efforts in the past have failed to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, will still be reluctant, he said.

Katie Orrico, director of the Washington office of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, would like to see action, but agreed with Stinson it is unlikely.

"Our biggest roadblock has always been the Senate, and I think this year will be no different, unfortunately," Orrico told the publication. Orrico also serves as the vice chair of the Health Coalition on Liability and Access, an advocacy coalition that works to enact medical liability reform at the national level

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Malpractice insurance rates are still high but have stabilized.

However, many physician advocacy groups would still like to see Congress pass a law capping noneconomic damages at $250,000. With the election of Donald Trump as president and the appointment of Tom Price—an orthopedic surgeon who as a congressman made liability reform a priority—as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, those groups have been more optimistic.

However, one bill, the Protecting Access to Care Act, which is modeled after successful reforms in California and that would cap legal damages, has lawyers and doctors squaring off.

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While the American College of Physicians sees the bill as likely to reduce costs associated with what White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer termed “frivolous lawsuits,” lawyers and Democratic lawmakers said it will make it more difficult for those injured by medical devices, drugs or malpractice to receive full compensation.

One big advantage to have uniform malpractice laws across the states is the expanded use of telemedicine, which allows doctors to treat patients in different states where liability laws may be different, Stinson said