- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The House yesterday approved a bill that would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases to $250,000 for plaintiffs.

The medical tort reform bill, which was approved 226-201, is the third version to pass the House in the past three years. The previous two measures died in the Senate.

Republican sponsors of the bill said they hope their party’s majority in the Senate will get the legislation to President Bush, who has supported medical tort reform initiatives.

“We are losing too many good doctors from the skyrocketing cost of medical liability insurance premiums and the rise in frivolous lawsuits,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican and sponsor of the bill.

But Democratic lawmakers and trial lawyers said the bill would limit accountability in the health care industry and reduce the number of legitimate malpractice cases being brought to court.

“This is a perfect example of the iron-clad hold the pharmaceutical industry continues to have on the Republican leadership in the House,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, during an evening debate yesterday.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat, said the bill would stop victims who were injured by the arthritis painkiller Vioxx from having their day in court.

Product liability lawsuits involving Vioxx total 4,100, with the first case beginning earlier this month in Texas, pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc. said last week.

But Mr. Gingrey argued that his bill does not stop injured patients from bringing malpractice cases against doctors, hospitals or medical product manufacturers, which include pharmaceutical companies.

“We are just limiting noneconomic damages, the so-called pain and suffering,” Mr. Gingrey said during yesterday’s debate. The bill does not cap economic damages such as lost wages and medical bills, he added.

The bill also reduces punitive damages to no greater than twice what the patient receives for economic damages.

Merck pulled Vioxx from store shelves Sept. 30, after reports were released linking the prescription medication to heart problems.

Clinical trial data showed an increased risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular complications 18 months after patients started taking Vioxx.

Since then, the Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency that regulates U.S. prescription drug sales, has examined other prescriptions that are in the same drug class as Vioxx.

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