A bill was recently introduced in Congress that proposes to create a safe legal harbor against malpractice suits for physicians. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm express skepticism that any type of regulation could truly provide physicians a “safe harbor” from the consequences of negligent practice.
The bill – HR 1406 The Saving lives, Saving Costs Act – would allow physicians who can “prove they followed the recommended best practices” to remove their malpractice claims to federal court or other alternative dispute resolutions. According to the New York Times, the bill has overwhelming bipartisan support.
Quality of care standards are currently set by federal programs such as: Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act. Doctors, hospitals and their insurance companies complain that these quality standards are not accurate and should not be used to prove negligence in malpractice cases. This bill would require that quality of care and performance be measured on a scale of zero to 100. This rating would then be used in malpractice claims, instead of the federal guidelines.
The Affordable Care Act mandated quality metrics that doctors and hospitals fear open them up to more malpractice liability. Quality metrics include requiring doctors to report data that assess the quality of care they provide, such as questions about how they counsel patients to quit smoking or how many of their patients develop infections after surgery.
Health care providers fear that these new metrics will be used in court to prove negligence or sway jurors. It is unsurprising, then, that nearly all hospitals, insurance companies, and physicians passionately support the bill.
Many experts believe, however, that prohibiting lawsuit claims based on federal malpractice guidelines does not make sense. These standards are there for very good reason: to indicate what reasonable medical care is. Jurors, patients and doctors should want to take these standards into consideration.
Consumer advocates are also expressing concern about the bill. A lawyer for the AARP called the bill “troubling,” and The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care said the bill would make it more difficult for nursing home residents to prove a facility violated federal standards.
The repercussions of this bill could be devastating for elderly Americans. The nursing home industry is in dire need of reform, and at present, one of the only ways for abused, neglected and mistreated nursing home residents to gain justice is through lawsuits. The majority of nursing homes are run by for-profit corporations, which under-staff facilities just to boost profits, among other dangerous cost-cutting measures. Like any other big business, they respond only to cash incentives- i.e. large settlements and verdicts – to reform. This is the best, most effective, most efficient way to protect residents from further harm.
State and federal inspection reports are a crucial aspect of these cases. Violations of federal standards are major indications that something is wrong in a nursing home and illuminate why and how residents are being injured. If the injured are not able to cite these violations in court, it could undermine the most important system there is to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
Medical guidelines should be used first to guide doctors or to defend or implicate those who may be negligent, not as a political tool. The likelihood that this bill will pass is slim, but the conversation it prompts is important. Emphasis should be placed on preventing medical mistakes in the first place and advancing patient safety, not on drafting bills that will allow doctors to skirt liability.
Our team of medical malpractice lawyers has 30 years of experience fighting on behalf of injured patients. We have a wide network of legal, medical, and investigative professionals that allows us to accept cases nationwide. If you or someone you love was seriously injured or killed by medical negligence, contact our firm immediately for a free consultation.