NU Online News Service, Feb. 25, 2004, 1:48 p.m. EST, Washington – The Senate has “dropped the ball” on medical malpractice reform, a health group says.[@@]

The National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., says it is extremely disappointed that the Senate let a procedural vote sidetrack a bill, S. 2061, that would have provided some protection for providers of obstetrical and gynecological services.

Bill supporters failed to get the 60 votes they needed to invoke cloture and shut off a filibuster by bill opponents.

Janet Trautwein, vice president of government affairs for NAHU, notes that although the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, a comprehensive medical liability reform bill, in 2003, the Senate has not been able to act.

“Congress must take action to ensure that medical malpractice laws provide adequate compensation for those who are truly injured while reducing frivolous lawsuits and extraordinary damage awards so more Americans have access to affordable health care,” Trautwein says.

S. 2061 represented an attempt by the Senate leadership to advance medical malpractice reform by focusing on specialties that have experienced particular problems with malpractice insurance rates.

S. 2061 would have imposed a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. In addition, it would have limited punitive damages to $250,000 or 200% of economic damages, whichever were greater.

Moreover, it would have established standards for the award of punitive damages. Under this test, punitive damages could be awarded only if the plaintiff proved that the defendant acted with “malicious intent” to cause the injury or “deliberately failed” to take steps that could have avoided the injury.

In addition, S. 2061 would have established a statute of limitations for filing ob/gyn malpractice actions, allowed courts to limit contingency fee payments to plaintiffs’ attorneys and allowed courts to reduce the plaintiff’s award for economic damages by any amounts received from collateral sources.