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Public Statements

Regarding H.R. 4280, The H.E.A.L.T.H. Act

Location: Washington, DC

REGARDING H.R. 4280, THE H.E.A.L.T.H ACT -- (Extensions of Remarks - May 14, 2004)

THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2004

Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I'm holding my nose and voting against H.R. 4280, which would limit medical malpractice awards. I am not pleased that we are voting on this bill again, since an identical bill is languishing over in the Senate and I doubt that by passing it today we will jolt the Senate into moving on the bill. I think the vote today has more to do with politics than with policy.

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 fingerpointing 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 voted for H.R. 663, the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act, which would create a voluntary medical error reporting system under which patient safety organizations would receive, on a confidential basis, and analyze information on reported errors. 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 this legislation, 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 to capping damages because I think it helps keep health care costs down and keeps doctors accessible, like in my home State of Colorado where we have caps. However, I think H.R. 4280 sets low and arbitrary limits on damages, which 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.

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 on tort reform. 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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