NU Online News Service, June 6, 6:05 p.m. — Washington

Health insurers and employers are applauding a federal bill aimed at encouraging the reporting of medical errors by easing fears of litigation.

The bill, S. 2590, would provide legal protection for information on medical errors reported voluntarily for the purposes of quality improvement and patient safety. This means that the information provided could not be used as the basis for malpractice lawsuits.

One of the chief sponsors of the bill, Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a physician, says in a statement that enacting the bill would foster an open, collaborative environment, encouraging health professionals to share information freely and analyze it thoroughly.

“Health care providers should not be punished for trying to learn from their mistakes, reduce medical errors, and improve the quality of care they deliver to patients,” Frist says.

Other sponsors of S. 2590 include Sens. John Breaux, D-La., Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H.

Donald Young, president of the Health Insurance Association of America, Washington, says the bill could help transform the current health care “culture of blame” to a “culture of safety.”

“Fear of lawsuits hands like a dark cloud over the current system, inhibiting the sharing of essential information,” Young says.

Neil Trautwein, director of employment policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington, cites a 2000 Institute of Medicine report, which estimates that medical errors kill between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans every year.

“That is an outrage to patients, providers and employers,” Trautwein says. “This new legislation will go a long way toward addressing this highly preventable national tragedy.”

He says creating a zone of protection from “rampant medical malpractice litigation” would be more effective than lawsuits at deterring medical errors.