Tea party snag
Medical liability bill delayed by GOP criticism
Physician and hospital groups that hoped medical practice reform would quickly advance in Congress saw such legislation hit a tea party speed bump this week. The House Judiciary Committee was expected on Feb. 9 to approve a bill that would establish limits on malpractice litigation, which Republicans say is a key to controlling spiraling healthcare costs.
The legislation encountered universal opposition from Democrats on the panel—as expected—but it also drew surprise criticism from some Republican members of the Tea Party Caucus. Their opposition, which was based on concerns the bill would violate constitutional limits on federal authority, was enough for the committee to delay final consideration of the measure until this week.
Republican Reps. Ted Poe and Louie Gohmert, both of Texas, said they would consider supporting a Democratic amendment that would bar the measure from overruling state constitutional bans on lawsuit caps.
Their concerns were enough for Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the panel’s chairman, to put off a final vote on the bill until after he could consider changes to the bill that would address such states’ rights concerns.
Poe said in statement afterward that he questions whether Congress has the constitutional authority to impose limits on states. “In my opinion, this may be a violation of the 10th Amendment.” Poe added he is “certain this is an issue that can be addressed.”
Smith’s office would not comment on whether he will offer changes to address the constitutional concerns stemming from the bill before a final vote this week, although Smith said in a statement that he remained “on course to take the bill to the House floor.”
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), chairman of the committee’s Constitution Subcommittee, said he expected “minor clarifications” to the bill to address the constitutional concerns.
The legislation would establish a threeyear statute of limitations on malpractice lawsuits; limit noneconomic damages to $250,000; and assign damages based on proportional responsibility.
The friction over whether a federal law would or would not override state constitutions