Politics Gives a Pass to Negligent Doctors, Drug and Device Makers

Jane Akre
March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012 ~ The advocacy group, Public Citizen in a letter (here) to Congress issued Monday, March 19 calls on the U.S. House to Reject the medical liability bill called H.R. 5.

The House may vote this week on the legislation called the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare Act. It essentially shields the healthcare industry from accountability for wrongdoing.

What is H.R. 5?

Under the bill, medical mistakes that take about 100,000 American lives every year through medical malpractice, would be paid for by the injured and taxpayers.

Proposed by the House Judiciary Committee, H.R. 5 essentially offers immunity for any doctor, medical device manufacturer, hospital, nursing home and pharmaceutical company involved in a medical mistake. It takes away the legal rights of individuals injured by medical negligence, an uncaring nursing home, defective drugs and medical devices.

What it does do is protect HMOs and insurance companies. Medical device makers and pharmaceutical companies would be immune from punitive damages as well.

Those in favor point out that H.R. 5 would reduce healthcare costs for the public and cut liability insurance premiums. according to the Act it would:

“To improve patient access to healthcare services and provide improved medical care by reducing the excessive burden the liability system places on the health care delivery system.”

Instead of decreasing the cost of health care, Public Citizen says it will likely do the opposite. By shielding the negligent parties, injured victims will be forced to turn to the public for help seeking medical assistance through taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and disability benefits.

“In a fair and just system, wrongdoers (individuals or corporation) are held accountable for conduct that harms others,” says Christine Hines, of the Public Citizen Congress Watch division who adds that Health and Human Services already pays $4.4 billion a year for medical errors, according to a 2010 study.

Any non-economic damage, such as pain and suffering, would be capped at $250,000. That means if a patient was paralyzed, disfigured, lost sexual function, became blind or infertile, the cap on the pain that accompanied would be limited. As a one-size-fits all, the Act does not take into account a child who may have a lifetime of pain ahead and the low-income individual.

Hines says, “If Congress was truly interested in enacting cost-saving measures, it would focus on reducing the thousands of injuries and deaths each year caused by preventable medical errors, which a government report said adds billions of dollars per year to the cost of U.S. health care.”

Sponsor Rep. John Gingrey (R-GA) is noted as a “far-right Republic leader,” according to GovTrack’s analysis of bill sponsorship. He introduced the bill January 24 and it went into Committee February 16.

Medical Errors

Preventable medical errors kill about 98,000 Americans a year.

The Institute of Medicine reported in 1999, "To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System" that between 44,000 and 98,000 people are killed every year and another 1.5 million preventable medication errors occur annually in the U.S. by medical errors in hospitals.

While medical errors and misdiagnosis are ongoing problems, technical errors made up the largest area of failure by a hospital, according to the study. Technical errors were responsible for 44% of medical errors.

In an investigative report, headed by the Hearst Corporation in March 2009, “Dead by Mistake,” found an estimated 200,000 Americans will die needlessly from a preventable medical error or hospital infection.

And in interviewing 20 of the 21 authors of the 1999 “To Err is Human” report, 16 believe the U.S. is no closer to reducing medical errors in half, which was the goal of the report.

Here is one section of the report in the San Francisco Chronicle about a “60 Minutes producer who lost his life due to a hospital error.

The Act is attached to the repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) which is a key provision of President Obama’s health care plan. House Republicans want to abolish the board which gives spending decision on Medicare to 15 independent medical experts of doctors charged with reducing waste in a non-politicized process.

The vote could come as early as Wednesday, reports NBC (here).

NBC reports this is the familiar “death panel” rhetoric and 19 House Democrats also want to abolish IPAB. #

Learn More

Public Citizen Letter


Death by Mistake


To Err is Human


Here is the Public Citizen link to your member of Congress- Just enter your zip code.


Public Citizen wants to hear your story of medical malpractice


Govtrack of bill


Here is the bill


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