Senate begins health care debate amid calls for tort reforms

Chris Rizo Nov. 30, 2009, 5:28pm

Max Baucus (D-Mont.)

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-On the heels of vociferous calls by business and trade groups to include legal reforms in the Senate health care bill, the chamber Monday began debate on the mammoth plan aimed at changing the way the nation's insurance companies do business.

Debate on the plan offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is expected last weeks. Democrats have said they hope to get a final health care bill to the White House before the end of the year.

But before that can be done, the Senate must approve a plan that will be merged with the House plan, approved Nov. 7. The conference committee bill will go to President Barack Obama, who has made health care reform his No. 1 domestic priority.

The Senate plan, opposed by all 40 Republicans, lacks legal reforms such as a cap on medical malpractice awards -- something sought by doctors.

"We know that our patients -- insured and uninsured, elderly and poor -- need a much more efficient, effective, and accountable health care system," Texas Medical Association President Dr. William Fleming III said last week. "But, on the whole, the Senate health plan is bad medicine for our patients."

The director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that as much as $54 billion could be saved over the next 10 years if Congress enacts legal reforms including a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would expand insurance coverage to some-31 million uninsured Americans and bar insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions. It would also require most individuals to purchase health coverage either through their employer, on their own or through a public plan.

The $1 trillion Senate bill, which for the first time would require most Americans to have health insurance, would be bankrolled by a range of new taxes. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the 2,074-page bill would reduce federal deficits by $130 billion over the next decade.

In a statement, Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the CBO report Monday indicates that the legislation will bring health insurance premiums down for most Americans.

"The analysis we received today indicates that whether you work for a small business, a large company or you work for yourself, the vast majority of Americans will see lower premiums than they would if we don't pass health reform," Baucus said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., disagreed.

"Most people, according to the Congressional Budget office, will end up paying more or seeing no significant savings," McConnell said. "This is not what the American people are asking for. And it's certainly not reform."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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