October 11th, 2009
03:07 PM ET
13 years ago

Casey: $250K cap on malpractice damages 'insulting'

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/11/art.caseysotu1011.cnn.jpg caption="Sen. Casey said Sunday that an aspect of medical malpractice reform favored by many congressional Republicans was 'insulting' and wouldn't be 'justice as we have come to understand it.'"]
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A moderate Pennsylvania Democrat came out strongly Sunday against the possibility of imposing a cap on medical malpractice damages as part of comprehensive health care reform legislation currently under consideration in Congress.

“I don’t think the way to go is to limit the rights of Americans who are injured by negligent or intentional conduct,” Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey who is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

“A $250,000 cap on damages, in my humble opinion, is insulting to our system of justice,” Casey also told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, “That is not justice as we have come to understand it.”

In an interview that aired earlier on State of the Union, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain suggested that medical malpractice reform was one area where the GOP should begin to crystallize its own positive health care reform agenda now that Congress is about to begin to process of melding together several health care bills in both chambers.

But, pointing to the experience of her state, Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow suggested that the Republican approach to malpractice reform was too simplistic.

“There’s a different way to come at it,” Stabenow told King, “The Republicans have a very traditional approach over and over again – whether or not [malpractice reform] has worked.” Stabenow said damages caps imposed in Michigan had not stemmed increases in the malpractice insurance rates paid by doctors.

Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budge Office issued a cost estimate of the health care reform bill drafted by the Senate Finance Committee which concluded that inclusion of tort reform in the legislation would save $54 billion.

soundoff (225 Responses)
  1. Dan M

    Any tort reform should not focus on capping the rewards of malpractice suits, but work to cut down on the number of frivolous lawsuits that are allowed trough. As much as Republicans like to ignore them, there are cases of malpractice in which the doctors were clearly negligent, and victims need to be compensated in those cases. As much as Democrats would like to ignore them, there are cases of "malpractice" in which the judge should be able to say "get out of my courtroom."

    There need to e fewer cases, not a cap on rewards. Otherwise, the doctors will simply feel compelled to order the same tests for fear of a $250,000 lawsuit instead of a $2,500,000 lawsuit. It's the lawsuits that they want to avoid, not the amount.

    October 11, 2009 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  2. Bill of Florida

    This is the typical Republican answer for everything: take away the rights of the people and let the big corporations steam roll us into the ground. Tort reform does not work. We tried it here in Florida, and the malpractice insurance rates stayed pretty much the same. There was only a little movement downward. Now I ask you, what does the state of Florida do about those who are truly injured at the hands of an irresponsible physician? Take for example the man in Tampa who had the wrong leg amputated? Does the state of Florida honestly think that his claim was frivolous? Do the republicans honestly think that tort reform is going to solve the healthcare crisis in this country and lower medical bills? Give me a break. How stupid do they think we are?

    October 11, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  3. JC

    It's a needed idea or soon you will have very few physicians willing to accumulate over $200K in medical school loans only to see half of their salary go to malpractice premiums. There is already a shortage of many specialties in states with no cap. Important to note too that this cap is ONLY for "pain and suffering."

    I'm a democrat and a huge supporter of health care reform. But we need tort reform, too. One area where the dems are purely in the pocket of the lawyers, sadly.

    October 11, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  4. gandoman

    I cannot believe that I might even consider, perhaps even agree with something from the Republican side of Congress.
    How do so many people, elected to office, whom have credentials showing some form of education which alludes to having some intelligence get so many things out of proportion.
    The world isn't complicated, politicians make it complicated.
    1. We absolutely need a "monetary" cap on Medical Malpractice suites.
    2. This "monetary" cap would be raised if it was proven to be 'negligence' in a Court of Law, not an 'acciden't.
    3. The "fine" and "prison time" cap would be raised again if it was proved to be' intentional' in a Court of Law, however, the monetary cap could remain the same as 'negligence'.

    If this doesn't make sense then who do we have representing us in Congress?
    Just the usual group of schmucks who have gotten elected by kissing some lawyer group's ass.

    Pass a law that NO ONE with a law degree can run for office!

    October 11, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  5. btgh

    Any sort of cap on a malpractice lawsuit de-values and insults the jury.

    Who better to decide the level of compensation than the 12 men and women who sat, listened and evaluated the unique circumstances of teach case?

    The system isn't broke, it just that insurance companies aren't getting the results they, and their board of directors, want. But they have bought many Republican, and some Democrat, legislators who should be more concerned about their constituents, not big business.

    October 11, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  6. Joel

    Merit is clueless in regards to what was posted. Florida has a lower malpractice ratio than other states because of the actions in the early 90s of the Florida legislature. Why did these actions become necessary, essentially because alot of doctors quit due to the out of control medical malpractice atmosphere at the time. All but a few level 1 trauma centers in the state closed because there were no doctors willing to cover because they could not afford the malpractice coverage. Why should a physician, who spent upwards of 300K dollars for college and medical school, then get to start earning an income when they are in their mid 30s, pay off their loans, and pay anywhere from 40K to 200K per year in malpractice insurance because the trial lawyers have turned the ability to practice medicine into a defensive efffort. Only in America can you smoke 3 packs a day, become morbidly obese, and when you wrap your car around a pole while driving drunk, sue the doctor and hospital because you have complications from your lifesaving procedures. Next time, call the trial lawyer to come save your life.

    October 11, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  7. Karen

    tate October 11th, 2009 12:14 pm ET

    Democants are owned by tort lawyers, a group who makes money off of suing peopl


    Sorry tate – Lawyers are only partially to blame. We (yes we) also have to take responsibility in the number of lawsuits that should never see courtroom lights. We have become a society of "let's see how fast I can make a buck" and "I'm entitled to" that lawyers take advantage of it.

    Having said that – yes 250K – regardless of what it is for is ridiculous. Physicians do make mistakes – they are not gods, but human beings. If a person is made incapacitated, then they should be given a settlement that takes care of lost wages, payment for any health bills that they incur plus a cost of living adjustment. For those who are permanently injured, then all of the above for life.

    What needs to stop is the percentages that the attorneys get (on top of their $100-500/hr fees) which can run anywhere from 1%to 5% of the settlement as well as advertising on TV (we've all seen them) encouraging people to sue.

    October 11, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  8. Ken

    Yet another problem with Republican ideology. The right-wing is quick to cap damages, but they will have nothing to do with capping the profit of insurance companies - which is really the heart of the matter. Of course, let's not all jump on the Democratic bandwagon. Why don't any of the bills going through the house or senate have a cap on insurance company profits? If there was a cap, then there would be no need to even have a "public option".

    October 11, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  9. Simmy

    Right on, Sen Casey.....Some of your Democratic peers are in need of divine intervention......Common sense and humanity don't seem to be working.....Republicans are totally out of the picture......They need hearts and brains......

    October 11, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  10. James From Chicago

    Why is this insulting?? It just means that people cannot milk the system. Now days everyone wants to sue over everyhting.
    It's sad.

    October 11, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  11. Pat in IL

    I just don't get some people's concerns. Pretty much everybody agrees that our health care system, including health insurance, needs to be changed. Some people are using sound bites to dis the Obama/dem plan, but they aren't coming up with alternatives. This issue is too iimportant to everyone to use party lines, sound bites, etc. for political purposes, or to just basically "bad mouth" someone of an oppposing party. Where are some statesmen who will work for the good of the country – not just please party members???

    October 11, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  12. Steve

    Tort Reform – YES!!! $250K – NO!!
    Just use a simple formula – The CBO has estimates on the expected cost of living and wages for the future.
    If someone loses their ablity to work, then compensate them 2X all future earnings based on their current wages – Federal Tax free.
    If someone loses their ability to physically or mentally function doing their current activities, then compensate them 2X all future earnings based on their current wages.
    All compensation is additive.
    If someone was not currently working, whether too young, old or unable, compensate them 1X all future earnings based on the avergage income for a person living in their geographic area.

    October 11, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  13. Bill from CA

    He's right. While I think there certainly needs to be regulations to prevent excessive malpractice awards, a cap of $ 250,000 on all malpractice awards is insulting. Neglect on the part of a doctor can easily result in millions of dollars of future medical expenses by the patient, why should they be left to incur that burden on their own?

    October 11, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  14. James Michael Roberson

    Yeah the insurance companies would love for us to set a cap at $250.000 on malpractice suits and leave them in control of health care. Then they would be giving it to us in both ends. Talk about going from the frying pan and into to the fire OMG!

    October 11, 2009 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  15. NVa Native

    You couldn't even buy a Republican politician for $250K ....close but not there yet.
    Any surprise that the Repubs come out on the side of their wealthy constituents here?
    What a joke, they don't even try to hide their motives any more!

    October 11, 2009 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  16. James P. Ferguson

    I practice anesthesia. I am a Obama supporter and a strong proponent of reform of both the healthcare reimbursement system and the insurance system. Why should we be forced to buy our policies from a scalper who will cancel you without a blink upon any need to pay out. That isn't insurance, it is a scam. But, If we are going to cover everyone we must distribute both cost and risk broadly and fairly; everyone has to be in the pool, providers and physicians need to stop being incentivized to do more and more complex procedures without evidence of benefit, (pay generous salaries, and get rid of CPT reimbursement by individual contact service) primary care has to be available and efficient and as well paid as a surgeon doing his specialty, and patients and customers have to realise that it is a human enterprise, with all that entails. Malpractice is the full convergence of three factors: duty to perform to a standard of care, failure to do so and resulting injury to the patient. That is not what 99% of claims are...they are poor or undesired outcomes related to known risks. Tort reform is an essential part of reform, but this cap on non monetary damages is too low. Compromise. Make it higher, but cap it so people don't get rich because someone tried to help them and failed. Make it only for punitive gross negligence.

    October 11, 2009 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  17. Death Panel Sarah

    Just try getting your arm cut off by mistake and see if $250,000 will care for your family!!

    October 11, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  18. Brent

    Tort reform only hurts those injured by doctors' mistakes. Why should patients suffer the economic consequences of their doctors' mistakes? Let juries do their job and decide damages for themselves. Certainly if juries are competent enough to decide whether someone should live or die in a death penalty case, they are competent enough to decide how much someone should be awarded in damages.

    October 11, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  19. Death Panel Sarah

    Malpractice reform SHOULD be getting the 'crappy' doctors out of practice so the good doctors are not penalized by them!

    Yank the licenses from the crappy docs after 2 cases of malpractice and let them be plumbers. At least, they cannot hurt anyone else!!

    October 11, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  20. Bpin

    The current proposal may be a good one,I just do not think any of us know. I wish we could read it or see the details, but language changes in it about hourly. We all know we need reform, and I think if the proposals were laid our line by line so that we could see what the real impacts will be, American citizens could voice together which one makes more sense. My proposal is probably too simple, plus it will expose the ridicolus amout of pork and non-related spending included in the bill.

    October 11, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  21. david

    The industry in this country that makes its living suing health care workers is insulting. Defensive medicine and needless procedures are some of the issues that is making healthacre in America unaffordable.

    October 11, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  22. Jenn, Philadelphia

    Doctors practice defensive medicine sending the patient for unnecessary tests to cover their buts, that's what drives insurance coverage costs up. Maybe caps aren't the answer. Maybe lawyers who file frivolous law suits should be suspended, disbarred and/or fined. Maybe a Congress not full of lawyers would do something about that.

    October 11, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  23. Pete

    Come on everybody let's be honest about this. People see these multi-million dollar payouts as hitting the lottery. Heck yes I would trtade an arm for 3 million, wouldn't you?

    The only reason to be opposed is that people don't want their chance to hit big bucks to be reduced! Besides the limit is only for pain and suffering not expenses or long term care.

    Don't forget that the lawyer always gets a third of the settlement. How do you think that John Edwards got the money to become a candidate. Why no anger at the lawyers for taking so much of the victims money?

    October 11, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  24. Aspen Professor

    Bob .... As any can tell you, I generally take the Dem side of an argument. But, on this one you are wrong. I am in favor of tort reform at some level but not at the $250,000 level. We should cap malpractice awards at $750,000. That would be enough to reduce the out-of-control awards and Attorney greed.

    The multi-million award$ are just plain nuts. And so is the minimal level of $250,000. I'd be in favor of a cap between $500,000 and $750,000.

    October 11, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  25. Nancy G

    Pat F. If I'm injured due to medical malpractice/incompetence for the rest of my life and I'm in severe pain every day, I want a he$$ of lot more than a lousy 250,000 thousand bucks for my pain & suffering. Better yet, it's about time that the medical community stop protecting bad doctors.

    October 11, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
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