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Will Congress Pass the HEALTH Act?

It appears nearly all members of the United States Legislature and the president agree that the nation’s health care system needs to undergo reform, but there is disagreement as to how to do so. As part of the reforms, and to help gain support for the bill, the President promised that he would help tackle the issue of medical malpractice reform (also called tort reform).

Not satisfied with the President’s promise, legislators had been trying to put forth their own ideas for medical malpractice reform: the HEALTH Act.

Similar to reforms implemented in Texas and California, the HEALTH Act would address tort reform by putting a cap on the amount of noneconomic damages that an injured patient could receive and shorten the statute of limitations on claims (the amount of time an injured person has to file a lawsuit). The act, if passed, would cap noneconomic damages – which are damages that can be awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit for injuries such as pain and suffering and emotional distress — at $250,000.

The bill appears to have little chance of passing, meaning that victims of medical malpractice may not face harsh restrictions on the compensation available.

In malpractice cases there are generally two types of compensatory damages that are recoverable: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages reimburse an injured victim for measurable losses like medical bills and lost wages. And, non-economic damages compensate an injured victim for the other losses caused by the injury that are not easily measured, such as disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life or mental anguish.

While each medical malpractice case is different and will depend on the specific set of facts, an arbitrary cap on non-economic damages may lead limit an injured patient’s (especially a patient who suffers severe injuries) ability to be fully compensated for the injuries sustained at the hands of a negligent doctor, nurse or other medical professional.

Source: politico.com, “Medical malpractice reform efforts stalled,” Brett Norman, Nov. 17, 2011


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