Proposal in Congress Would Override Texas Medical Malpractice Laws

HOUSTON – Medical malpractice laws in Texas and other states would be nullified under a measure in Congress that could be voted on this week.

House Resolution 1215, the Protecting Access to Care Act, would weaken accountability requirements for hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and drug companies accused in a patient’s injury or death. Conservative writer and public policy consultant Dean Clancy explained the measure would cancel out any state-level malpractice laws.

“It even overrides state constitutional provisions, that the people of the states have added to their constitutions in order to protect patients and people who are injured by medical negligence,” Clancy said. “And so, there’s a very high-handed, top-down, Washington-knows-best quality.”

The bill would apply to claims such as medical negligence, defective medical devices, dangerous pharmaceuticals, and nursing home neglect and abuse, and sets a federal cap on damages and a statute of limitations. Clancy said Texas Republicans Ted Poe and Louis Gohmert have led House opposition to the bill, while Rep. Lamar Smith is a co-sponsor.

The measure would apply to people in federal health care programs, which opponents argue would disproportionately affect people with federal marketplace insurance plans – those covered by Medicare and Medicaid – as well as veterans and service members.

Supporters say it would reduce frivolous medical lawsuits and excessive jury awards, and help bring down provider costs. But Clancy contends it wouldn’t have much impact.

“Research suggests that the kinds of reforms they’re pushing, like damage caps, don’t really save a lot of money,” he said. “Medical malpractice probably accounts for less than 2.5 percent of all health care costs. So there’s actually not much money to be saved in this area.”

According to a Johns Hopkins University study, preventable medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer. Opponents of HR 1215 include the Institute for Policy Innovation, the Taxpayer Protection Alliance and the American Bar Association.