Emergency Physician Protections Included in Liability Reform Bill Passed by House

March 22, 2012

An ACEP-supported amendment that extends Federal tort protections to emergency physicians was included in a comprehensive medical liability reform bill approved Thursday by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Representatives Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Pete Sessions (R-TX) offered the amendment to H.R. 5 that provides limited liability protections to (emergency and on-call) physicians who perform the services mandated by the federal EMTALA law – ACEP’s top legislative priority in the 112th Congress.

“Thanks to the leadership of Reps. Charlie Dent and Pete Sessions, the House has passed specific liability protections for emergency physicians,” said ACEP president Dr. David Seaberg. “This is a critical step forward, and emergency physicians now are urging the Senate to pass the legislation as well to make the reforms a reality.

“The legislation not only will provide liability protections for emergency physicians, but also for on-call specialists, which will help make sure they are available to emergency patients in their hour of need,” Dr. Seaberg added.

H.R.5, the “Protecting Access to Health (PATH) Care Act,” passed by a vote of 223 to 181, and combined comprehensive medical liability reforms with repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). The medical liability provisions included in the base bill set a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, limit attorney fees and establish other methods to rein in lawsuits, among other things. Enacting comprehensive medical liability reforms and IPAB repeal have both been important legislative goals for ACEP during this congressional session. Overall, the bill would reduce health spending by $45 billion over 10 years.

Also included in H.R. 5 was an amendment offered by Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and Jim Matheson (D-UT) that grants liability protections to health workers that volunteer at federally declared disaster sites.

“Leaving Medicare payment decisions in the hands of an unelected, unaccountable body with minimal congressional oversight would harm quality health care for our nation’s senior citizens and the disabled,” said Dr. Seaberg. “Medicare spending cut recommendations also would be made without any input from actively practicing physicians, who daily care for patients.”

IPAB was created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. According to the law, if IPAB fails to report spending cut recommendations or does not become operational, the power to recommend cuts will rest solely in the hands of a single individual — the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Many groups have expressed major concerns about eliminating the transparency of hearings, debate and a meaningful opportunity for critical stakeholder input.

ACEP leaders would like to thank the emergency physicians who worked so closely with their Members of Congress to ensure the bi-partisan support of these efforts in the House.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate. ACEP will continue to provide its members with updates and action alerts as the bill progresses.
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