Under House Bill 1215, introduced in February 2017 by Rep. Steve King, R-IA, there would be a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages for civil malpractice cases involving elderly and dependent adults. While California has a similar cap, it does not apply to lawsuits involving negligence and abuse toward the elderly and dependent adults. Lawmakers stress that the bill is intended to reduce healthcare costs and increase access to healthcare – it is even named “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017.” Since the federal government is adversely affected by malpractice lawsuits for individuals insured through Medicare, legislators estimate it could save the government $62 billion in the next 10 years. However, many healthcare providers and attorneys feel this law would take away a crucial protection against elder abuse and interfere with state’s rights.
Elder Protection Issues in HR 1215
As David R. Cohen of Stark and Stark pointed out, civil lawsuits are one of the only ways elderly individuals and their families have to recover after an elderly person or dependent adult is significantly injured or killed due to negligent, reckless, or intentionally harmful medical care. Civil cases enable victims and their families to be reimbursed for their expenses and compensated for their pain and suffering, which can be severe in elder abuse situations. These civil cases also serve to make fraud in nursing homes and other care organizations known to the public, increase accountability, and improve the quality of care adults receive.
A significant limitation on damages victims and their families can receive is detrimental to the purposes and effects of medical malpractice sits based on elder neglect and abuse. Limited damages mean that victims and families may not receive the compensation they deserve and healthcare providers have less of an incentive to provide high quality care.
Additional Issues in HR 1215
While many are specifically worried about HR 1215’s effect on elder abuse protections in California, others have pointed out more general issues with the potential statute. This bill would create a federal statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases regarding care that was provided by or subsidized by the federal government. A victim would have three years after the injury to file or only one years after discovering the injury, whichever comes first.
The law would allow some evidence about other types of benefits received by the victim, such as insurance payments or disability benefits, which could reduce the amount of money the defendant would be required to pay the victim.
Health care facilities and pharmacies would have immunity in lawsuits against drug companies for unsafe drugs or medical products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, even if it was negligently prescribed or administered.
Do You Need a San Francisco Elder Law Attorney?
HR 1215 has not yet passed the House and its future remains unclear. A similar bill was previously defeated in 2011. However, with the current concern regarding health care costs around the country, it may have more support this time around. However, it is not yet law and California offers criminal and civil protections against elder neglect and abuse. If you or an elderly loved one have been injured due to negligent medical care, do not hesitate to call Brod Law Firm at (800) 427-7020 to learn about your legal options and rights.
(image courtesy of Daniel Frank)