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Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2005

Location: Washington DC

HELP EFFICIENT, ACCESSIBLE, LOW-COST, TIMELY HEALTHCARE (HEALTH) ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - July 28, 2005)


Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I'm reluctantly voting against H.R. 5, which would limit medical malpractice awards.

I am not opposed to considering legislation that would do something to respond to real problems. But I do not think this bill merits that description.

In fact, I think the vote today has more to do with politics than with policy--and if I had any doubts on that point, they ended when the Republican leadership refused to permit any amendments at all to be considered. Stifling debate is not the way to develop good policy.

As in the past, the bill's supporters argue that unless the tort laws are changed, doctors will not be able to afford malpractice insurance and so will give up providing medical care. And, again, opponents say the bill would do nothing to affect insurance rates.

I think we're beating a dead horse. Both sides have dug in and aren't willing to compromise. In the meantime, we aren't doing anything to reform our medical liability system and we aren't doing anything to make health care more affordable and accessible for Americans.

Our system is inherently adversarial and we've continued this finger-pointing game and done nothing to improve patient safety and health care access, which is what we're really talking about here.

I think we need a system that is non-punitive and encourages openness and improvement so that doctors can report medical errors without fear of being sued. This will help us understand medical errors and improve procedures and patient safety. Fewer medical errors will result in fewer medical malpractice suits, which in turn will help keep malpractice insurance rates and health care premiums down.

That's why I have supported legislation to create a voluntary medical error reporting system under which patient safety organizations, on a confidential basis, would receive information on reported errors for analysis. They would then be expected to develop and disseminate evidence-based information to help providers implement changes in practice patterns that help to prevent future medical errors.

In addition to that, I think we should explore ideas like alternate dispute resolution, no-fault systems, and medical courts.

I also want to make it clear that I am not opposed in principle to capping damages. That has been done in Colorado and some other states, and I think there is evidence indicating that it can help keep health care costs down and keeps doctors accessible. However, I think this bill's low and arbitrary limits on damages will hurt those at the bottom of the income scale the most. Also, I don't think we should be shielding large and powerful HMOs and drug companies from liability. So, I cannot support the bill as it stands.

Mr. Speaker, ultimately this issue is about health care access and patient safety. If we aren't going to compromise, I hope we'd start thinking outside the box on how to end the logjam. I offer these ideas as a way to get there, because we aren't going to get there from where we are today.


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