Lawyers, doctors square off over tort reform bill

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House Republicans have introduced a new bill aimed at limiting medical liability damages.

Lawyers and doctors once again find themselves on opposite sides of a bill aimed at limiting damages for medical liability.

After their high-profile retreat on broader healthcare reform, Republicans in the House of Representatives are pushing for legislation that is much more amenable to the American College of Physicians (ACP), Medscape reported (reg. req.). The Protecting Access to Care Act would cap legal damages for medical liability lawsuits.

But while the ACP sees the bill as likely to reduce costs associated with what White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer termed “frivolous lawsuits,” lawyers and Democratic lawmakers say it will make it more difficult for those injured by medical devices, drugs or malpractice to receive full compensation, per an article in the New York Times.

The general public remains skeptical of the measure, according to trial lawyer advocacy group American Association for Justice, citing a poll of seven Republican-leaning states in which a majority of respondents opposed the measure.

Republican lawmakers have long targeted tort reform as a silver bullet for what they see as a malpractice crisis, but some experts are skeptical the problem is as bad as it seems. Paul A. Greve, an executive vice president at the benefits consulting company Willis Towers Watson, told the New York Times that malpractice claims slowed in the first part of the last decade due to a combination of improvements in patient safety and adoption of tort reform laws at the state level.

In contrast to the ACP’s stance, other groups offered mixed support for the bill. Greg Crist, a spokesman for the Advanced Medical Technology Association, indicated his organization supports the bill’s “overall intent,” but that device makers aren’t fully on board.

“Some of our members are concerned that the bill could actually have the opposite effect and could increase burdens on manufacturers by insulating doctors and other healthcare providers from any liability related to devices,” he told the Times.