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Public Statements

Protecting Access to Healthcare Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. NADLER. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I rise in opposition to this deeply flawed and deceptively named legislation.

Contrary to the bill's title, this bill will not promote access to better health care nor will it make health care more affordable. If the wishes of many of the proponents of this legislation come true and the Affordable Care Act is repealed and Medicare and Medicaid as we know them are curtailed or eliminated, then decent, affordable health care will remain out of reach for millions of Americans, including many who now have access to health care services.

I urge all Members to keep one fact in mind as we debate the medical malpractice aspects of this bill. These provisions would apply only to people who had meritorious claims of malpractice against them. You don't have to limit people's recoveries or attorneys fees for people without meritorious claims. So whatever we're doing here today will be done only to those who have been injured, whose injuries have been inflicted by someone else's wrongdoing, and who need and should be entitled to compensation.

The argument we hear, which is not a new one, is that if we allow the players in the health care industry, including Big Pharma, the manufacturers of defective medical devices, and even big insurance companies and HMOs that routinely pay for health care services, to escape the consequences of the harm they inflict, then somehow we'll all be better off.

This is not true, has never been true, and, despite the extravagant claims of the proponents of this bill and the industries lobbying for it, that will not be true if this multibillion dollar gift to bad actors in the health care industry were to become law.

Just how pricey a gift to industry are we talking about here? According to the Congressional Budget Office, $45.5 billion over the next decade. Now, anyone who believes that those savings will be passed along directly to consumers, health care providers, and victims of medical malpractice is living in a dream world. Some of us will remember the debates we had in this House for the 8 years preceding enactment of the 2005 Bankruptcy Code rewrite. We will no doubt remember the argument that abuse of the bankruptcy system was a hidden tax of $400 a year for every American and that tightening the rules would be of interest to all consumers. Well, we passed that huge giveaway to the big banks. Consumers have not seen a nickel of that $400. The banks pocketed all the money. If you think that this bill will lower costs for consumers, that the big insurance companies will not simply pocket the money, there's a famous bridge in my district that I might be willing to sell to you.

So keep in mind just who will be bearing the burden of this legislation: people who are subject to limitations on damages and on their ability to obtain competent counsel--something not imposed on insurance companies, drug companies, or HMOs. That may be good for the insurance companies, for the manufacturers of defective drugs and medical devices and all the other wrongdoers walking these Halls with open checkbooks, but it will come at the expense of their victims.

Nowhere does CBO, or their sponsors, explain why their belief that insurance companies, Big Pharma and medical device manufacturers will pass any savings along, nor do they account for the cost of the care needed by people who have been injured and who will be unable to receive adequate compensation.

This bill is not limited to suits against individual health care service providers, doctors and other licensed health care professionals. It would provide protection against malpractice claims for large corporations, insurance companies, health maintenance organizations, and pharmaceutical giants when they deal in defective products or when someone else's health is destroyed because an insurance company refused to pay for necessary care.

Mr. Chairman, we heard the gentleman from California refer to the California legislation that is the model for this legislation passed in 1976, 36 years ago. That legislation enacted a limit and said for noneconomic damages you can only get a recovery of $250,000 because you lost a leg when they removed the wrong leg. They felt in 1976 that $250,000 was an appropriate amount to limit it to. In today's dollars, that's $38,000.

But there's no inflator in that legislation, and there's no inflator in this legislation. That $250,000 in 1976 today is $1.4 million. So if we were modeling this on that, we should say the limit is $1.4 million, but we're not doing that. We're saying 250, and we're not putting an inflation adjustment in here, so it will be $250,000 this year, and 5 years from now it will be the equivalent of $100,000, and 10 years from now $35,000 and eventually zero.

I submit that it is very wrong. It may be that if malpractice causes a woman to lose her fertility, causes her to lose the ability to bear children, the medical costs to her may be minor, the lost wages, the economic damages may be minor. But the inability to bear a child should be limited to $250,000 and eventually to almost nothing because there's no inflation in this? If someone is put in a wheelchair for life, the pain and suffering is worth almost nothing? That's what is wrong with this legislation, and that's what's immoral about this legislation. That's why we ought to vote against this legislation.


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