NU Online News Service, Aug. 2, 12:30 p.m. — Washington

A major employers group said today it opposes the breakthrough agreement between President George W. Bush and Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga. on a patients’ rights bill.

Neil Trautwein, director of employment policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington, said that, while the agreement is better than the alternative, it would still expose employers to significant liability.

Specifically, the agreement divides jurisdiction over health disputes between federal and state courts. Federal courts will have jurisdiction over all contractual matters and all cases filed against employers, while state courts will have jurisdiction over medical disputes filed against health insurance plans.

However, while plaintiffs could recover unlimited economic damages from either employers or health plans, non-economic and punitive damages would be capped at $1.5 million each, for a total of $3 million. The cap applies to all lawsuits, whether filed in state or federal court.

Moreover, the agreement bars class action lawsuits against health plans or employers under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act or the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

If the House approves legislation containing the Bush-Norwood agreement, it would be up to a House-Senate Conference Committee to work out differences between the House bill and the legislation approved earlier by the Senate.