Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Pascrell Statement on Passage of Medical Malpractice Bill in House

Mar 13, 2003
Press Release

New Jersey lawmaker says flawed measure "lets HMO's off hook"
while not addressing current malpractice insurance crisis

WASHINGTON - Rep. Bill Pascrell issued the following statement today regarding H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2003, which passed the House today by a vote of 229-196.  Pascrell voted against the measure:  

"Over the past several weeks, I have met with doctors from throughout my district.  Their diagnosis is in, and it isn't good for any of us. The crisis of astronomical malpractice premiums is real in New Jersey, and it is real all across this country. We need to address this crisis, and we need to do it before we lose one more talented and committed health care provider simply because they can't pay their outlandish premium increases.  On that, the Congress seems to agree."

Unfortunately, the legislation that passed the House today will not cure the ills in our malpractice insurance system. It does not bring immediate relief to stem the tide of doctors leaving the profession, and it doesn't increase patient access to their doctors.

First and foremost, this bill fails because it rests upon the conclusion that caps on damage awards are the answer.  I don't agree with that conclusion.

According to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, California medical malpractice premiums increased dramatically during the first decade with MICRA - the model for this bill - and substantially decreased during the first decade of Proposition 103.   In fact, the American Insurance Association (AIA) has stated that "Insurers never promised that tort reform would achieve specific premium savings."

This bill fails because what it really does is let HMOs off the hook.

New Jersey is one of eleven states that hold HMOs accountable by allowing patients to challenge their HMO's decision, and to sue them.  This bill would squash that important right.  By capping ALL lawsuits, not just medical malpractice suits, this legislation preempts the state laws that hold HMO's responsible for their mistakes.

The bill is also flawed in that it increases the burden of proof to "malicious intent" in order to obtain punitive damages.  This would make it far more difficult - and unacceptably so - to punish and deter the most egregious conduct. 

Worse yet, H.R. 5 eliminates altogether punitive damages in product liability cases involving drugs and medical devices approved by FDA, as well as those not approved by FDA that are "generally recognized as safe and effective.

These provisions make this legislation a pill none of us should swallow.

If my memory serves me correctly, last Congress a majority on both sides of the aisle voted to hold HMOs accountable when they make medical decisions that kill or permanently maim patients.  Today, supporters want us to flatly abandon that commitment to a Patients' Bill of Rights.

H.R. 5 is not good for patients, and it will not help alleviate the crisis our health care providers are facing.   The only ones who benefit from it are the HMOs, and that fails our obligation to address this crisis."