Following up on its Wednesday passage of the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act, the House yesterday passed H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2005. The HEALTH Act, a staple of the President's tort reform agenda, passed on a largely party-line vote, 230-194. Its major provisions are summarized here:
Cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases at $250,000.
Set standards for punitive damage awards.
Punitive damages could be awarded only when "clear and convincing" evidence proves that a defendant acted with malicious intent to injure the claimant or deliberately failed to avoid unnecessary injury; and when compensatory damages were awarded.
Punitive damages would be limited to the greater of twice economic damages or $250,000.
Allow courts to restrict the payment of attorney contingency fees based on the size of the award.
Set a statute of limitations of three years after the date of manifestation of injury or one year after the claimant discovers the injury, with certain exceptions.
Allow the introduction of collateral source benefits and the amount paid to secure such benefits as evidence.
Limit the liability of manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, and providers of medical products that comply with Food and Drug Administration standards.
Provide for periodic payments of future damage awards.
The bill now moves to the Senate, almost certain to be its graveyard, at least in its present form.