WASHINGTON -- Responding to physicians' complaints that insurance rates are driving them out of business, the House passed a measure that would limit malpractice awards to patients injured by their doctors.
The bill passed 217-203 on Thursday. Debate was emotional as Democrats and Republicans traded barbs over whose proposals would best help patients faced with doctor shortages or rising health costs.
"We have a crisis in this country now," said Rep. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., the measure's sponsor. "We are very close to Americans dying because they can't get emergency care, and the quality of our health care system deteriorating across the board."
But Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, said Republicans had offered a bill that does nothing to help patients. "People aren't going to get any better health care because of this bill," Tubbs Jones said.
It is unlikely the bill will be acted on by the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has already rejected a similar measure.
Still, House Democrats immediately attacked the bill as a gift for insurers.
"There is no question medical liability insurance rates are out of control," said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla. "What many of the physicians fail to realize is that the bill will not lower doctors' premiums. Hiked premiums are the result of insurers."
Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., countered, saying, "Our nation is galloping towards a health care crisis of dimensions we have never faced before. There are whole states where a woman cannot find an obstetrician that will take a high-risk pregnancy."
"Very quietly, access to sophisticated high-risk care is declining in America," Johnson said.
The legislation would limit noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, to $250,000. Punitive damages would be limited to twice the amount of economic damages awarded or $250,000, whichever is greater.