Putting hos­pi­tals at risk

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

As drafted, D.C. Coun­cil Chair­man Phil Men­del­son’s well-in­ten­tioned “Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion Act,” which would set spe­cific nurse-to-pa­tient ra­tios for hos­pi­tals op­er­at­ing in the city [“District to weigh boost­ing nurse staffs,” Metro, Feb. 5], in­vites pre­sum­ably un­in­tended con­se­quences that could sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease health-care costs and de­crease ac­cess to care.

Un­der the bill, hos­pi­tals in vi­o­la­tion of staffing re­quire­ments will face civil penal­ties of up to $25,000 a day, re­gard­less of whether any pa­tient suf­fers a re­sult­ing in­jury. But it doesn’t limit civil en­force­ment to the D.C. at­tor­ney gen­eral. As a re­sult, en­tre­pre­neur­ial per­sonal-in­jury lawyers could file costly law­suits, as they did in Cal­i­for­nia three years ago. There, per­sonal-in­jury lawyers won a jaw-drop­ping $677 mil­lion class-ac­tion ver­dict against an op­er­a­tor of 22 as­sisted-care fa­cil­i­ties across the state, not to com­pen­sate any in­jured per­sons but sim­ply be­cause records showed oc­ca­sional dips be­low man­dated nurse-to-pa­tient ra­tios.

Reg­u­la­tors should en­force their rules, but pri­vate lit­i­ga­tion can drive providers out of busi­ness and leave pa­tients and in­sur­ers with higher bills. To be cer­tain that his bill serves the pub­lic in­ter­est and not the in­ter­ests of per­sonal in­jury lawyers, Mr. Men­del­son and the coun­cil should em­brace an amend­ment that leaves en­force­ment in the hands of pub­lic au­thor­i­ties. Tiger Joyce, Washington The writer is pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Tort Re­form As­so­ci­a­tion.

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