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Opposition Motion to the Patients First Act of 2003


Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, urges you to vote AGAINST the Motion to Proceed on S. 11, the “Patients First Act of 2003.” The full Senate is scheduled to vote on this motion tomorrow, July 9. There have been no Senate hearings on S. 11 or on previous Senate medical malpractice bills introduced this Congress. We believe it is wrong for the Senate to move to the floor an issue as complex as medical malpractice without the benefit of hearings in which all sides of the issue can be aired. That is why we are asking Senators to oppose the Motion to Proceed.
Further, the provisions of S. 11, calling for caps of $250,000 for nonecononic damages, will not be effective in addressing what is a very real problem: skyrocketing medical malpractice premiums for some doctors in certain states and in certain specialties. Moreover, S. 11 does nothing to address medical errors while punishing the most vulnerable – women, children and the elderly – who have suffered serious injury because of malpractice and must rely on noneconomic damages most heavily since they often don’t earn incomes.
· Time Magazine, June 9, 2003, quoting findings from Weiss Ratings, an independent insurance rating agency: ” . . .in states without caps on noneconomic damages, median annual premiums for malpractice coverage rose 36% from 1991-2002. But in states with caps, premiums rose even more–48%.”
· Business Week March 3, 2003″ . . .proponents of caps simply aren’t coming up with facts to make their case. Instead, they’re relying on scare stories–always a bad starting point for making serious policy decisions.”
· Wall Street Journal June 24, 2002, quoting Donald Zuk, chief executive of a leading malpractice insurer, “I don’t like to hear insurance company executives say it’s the tort [injury-law] system — it’s self-inflicted,” and quoting Alice Kirkman with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “We are admitting it’s a much more complex problem than we have previously talked about.”
Again, S. 11 fails to address the epidemic of medical errors cited in the 1999 Institute of Medicine (IoM) report, with as many an 98,000 people dying each year from medical errors and those errors constituting the 8th leading cause of death in the United States. Consumer Reports also recognized the severity of the medical error problem in its January 2003 cover story on hospitals, finding that 12 percent of individuals surveyed were aware of a medical error, misdiagnosis, or similar problem during their hospital stay, and for 5 percent of respondents, such problems led to serious health complications.
CU instead supports REAL medical malpractice reform. We believe the bipartisan legislation introduced on July 8, 2003 by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is far more effective in providing relief to doctors and addressing the root causes of runaway medical malpractice insurance rates. That proposal would do the following:
· Provide tax credits to doctors who are experiencing higher than average increases in malpractice premiums
· Addresses the epidemic of medical errors by adopting recommendations of the IoM for the establishment of a system to share medical error information among providers and patient safety organizations, allowing doctors and hospitals to learn from medical errors and establish best medical practices
· Repeal anti-trust exemption for insurance companies to prevent them from engaging in anti-competitive activity and holding medical providers hostage to the economic cycles of the insurance industry
Consumers Union supports reforms of the medical malpractice insurance system, but those reforms must be geared to truly addressing the problem some doctors confront with spiking premiums and should work to reduce medical errors. Such legislation must not punish the most vulnerable victims of medical malpractice. We urge you to oppose the Motion to Proceed on S. 11.
July 8, 2003