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Consumer group issues statement saying House rewards medical negligence

Public Citizen consumer group's President Joan Claybrook issued a statement saying the 230-194 House vote shields the medical industry from accountability for negligence, which is an “abhorrent abuse of federal power that shifts costs from wealthy corporate interests to patients who are severely injured by defective drugs, medical devices or poor medical care.”

Claybrook said physicians in support of the legislation, H.R. 5, are being scammed because it will not lower their high medical malpractice insurance rates. Pointing to numerous studies, Claybrook said the increasing malpractice premiums are in response to the economic cycle and the business decisions made by insurers. From 2000 to 2004, the top 15 malpractice insurers, according to Public Citizen's statement, raised their rates by 120 percent while payouts increased just five percent in comparison.

Even as malpractice rates are beginning to stabilize because of improvements in the economic climate, Claybrook said the Republican-led House voted to “slash the legal rights of people whose lives are devastated by medical negligence.” The so called “crisis” condition that the lawmakers claim exist is, in fact, fiction, according to Claybrook, reflected by the fact that both the number and the total value of malpractice payouts to patients have remained flat since 1991, and significantly declined since 2001 when adjusted for medical inflation.

Under the malpractice legislation, setting an arbitrary $250,000 maximum cap on pain and suffering would bypass state juries and judges. Victims most severely affected by medical malpractice, including victims blinded, paralyzed, disfigured, suffering irreversible brain damage or trying to deal with the death of a child or spouse, will be the most affected by the bill that fails to adequately consider that as many as 100,000 people a year die from preventable medical errors in hospitals alone.

Currently, just 5.5 percent of doctors account for 57 percent of medical malpractice payouts. The bill, in addition to further punishing victims of malpractices, would also lift the threat of punitive damages from nursing home corporations whose questionable hiring practices put elderly residents at greater risk for abuse, according to Claybrook. The Public Citizen, as well as other consumer groups, believes the Senate must reject the bill and put patient rights first.

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