Federal health courts bill keeps progressing

A federal bill establishing specialized "health courts" for medical malpractice cases continues to progress through Congress. The courts, a concept developed jointly by the Harvard School of Public Health and legal reform group Common Good, would offer full-time judges with healthcare expertise, as well as experts working for the court. The idea is that such judges would be better equipped to evaluate the merits of medical malpractice claims. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), would let states create health courts, and just as significantly, would let the states apply for HHS grants to fund them. Plaintiffs would have the right to opt out of such courts if they preferred a traditional trial. The bill would also end open-ended pain and suffering awards, instead doling out awards according to a fixed schedule.

Attorneys are split on how appropriate such courts are. Some say that they'll help plaintiffs, given that the judges will understand the magnitude of their concerns. But others suggest that such courts will favor providers. Critics note that providers are pushing this legislation, and suggest that the providers believe they'll get a more favorable hearing in this setting.

To get more background on the bill:
- read this Jacksonville Business Journal article

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