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IIABA Hails House Approval of Medical Liability Reform

End to Unwarranted Litigation Would Improve Health Care Access for Patients

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 13 - Calling it a significant step toward fixing a medical liability system that unnecessarily restricts health care access and delivery, the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) is applauding the House for approving the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Health Care (HEALTH) Act (H.R. 5) today.

The 300,000-member association is pleased that both Republican and Democratic House members have recognized the urgent need to reform an inherently inefficient civil justice system that is ultimately hurting America’s patients as much as its doctors, says IIABA CEO Robert A. Rusbuldt.

“Out-of-control medical litigation is driving America’s health care costs up and its number of fine doctors and services down,” Rusbuldt says. “The exorbitant legal fees required to defend frivolous lawsuits have triggered double-digit cost increases in medical malpractice insurance, forcing doctors to charge more for coverage, refuse to perform high-risk procedures or leave the profession altogether out of frustration.

“This legislation would reverse the current trend of limiting high-quality health care and emergency services. All Americans need and deserve the best possible access to medical treatments,” adds Rusbuldt.

IIABA applauds the leadership of Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) as chief sponsor of the legislation, which enjoyed the support of more than 125 bipartisan co-sponsors as well as the leadership of President Bush on this crucial medical availability and access issue.

The bill would place a $250,000 cap on malpractice awards for “non-economic” damages such as pain and suffering or mental anguish. It also caps punitive damages at the greater of $250,000 or twice compensatory damages. “Economic” damages to a patient from physician errors—past and future medical expenses, costs of obtaining domestic services and loss of business or employment opportunities—would remain uncapped under the legislation. H.R. 5 also stipulates that each defendant would only be responsible for his or her share of damages, rather than being individually responsible for the entire amount. It also would require plaintiffs in most cases to bring lawsuits within three years of the date of injury or one year after the plaintiff discovers or should have discovered the harm.

“The bottom line is that doctors want to do their jobs, and patients want the top-notch medical treatments and procedures they deserve,” explains IIABA Senior Vice President of Federal Government Affairs Maria L. Berthoud. “But the current litigation system is out-of-control and everyone is paying the price. We are pleased the House recognizes this bill as the prescription necessary to get the situation under control.”

President Bush has been a strong proponent of medical liability reform, significantly enhancing the prospects of enacting a law. A recent Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Health-care Poll showed that the majority of Americans (58 percent) support legislative efforts to limit the costs of medical liability and reduce the costs of medical malpractice insurance. Only 16 percent opposed the legislation while 25 percent remained undecided.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently released a report documenting numerous accounts of medical practices and services that have been disrupted or shut down because of the medical malpractice insurance crisis. Some examples:

  • The University of Nevada Medical Center closed its trauma center in Las Vegas for ten days in July 2002 after its surgeons quit because they could no longer afford malpractice insurance premiums, some of which had increased from $40,000 to $200,000.
  • Six of the largest nursing home companies, both privately and publicly owned, have filed for bankruptcy in the past two years, citing as a significant factor in their financial downturn the uncontrolled costs associated with medical liability premiums and tort related expenses.
  • A doctor in a small North Carolina town opted for early retirement when his premiums skyrocketed from $7,500 to $37,000 per year. His partner, unable to afford the expenses by himself, may now be forced to close the practice.

IIABA is pleased that the bill passed the House by a 229-196 vote—larger than the 14-vote margin by which the House approved similar legislation in the last Congress.

“This bill stalled in the Senate last year, but this time that chamber really needs to champion it,” says Berthoud. “Too many Americans are negatively impacted each day that the Senate does not act and allows a jackpot medical litigation system to continue. The more a doctor fears being frivolously sued, the less he or she is comfortable treating patients.

“Obviously, doctors provide a valuable service to our country,” Berthoud continues. “Contrary to popular belief, they cannot afford to, nor should they have to, spend the majority of their hard-earned money to pay for the frivolous litigation costs that are the root cause of this health care crisis. And the American patient should not be likewise suffering the consequences.

Founded in 1896, IIABA is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of independent insurance agents and brokers, representing a network of more than 300,000 agents, brokers and their employees nationally. Its members are businesses that offer customers a choice of policies from a variety of insurance companies. Independent agents and brokers offer all lines of insurance—property, casualty, life and health—as well as employee benefit plans and retirement products. Web address:


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Alexandria VA 22314
​phone: 800.221.7917
fax: 703.683.7556

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