Medical Malpractice Legislation Stalled

The House Judiciary Committee postponed a markup of comprehensive medical liability reform legislation last week following opposition from some conservative members of the panel. H.R. 4771, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2016, would limit jury awards by setting conditions for lawsuits arising from health care liability claims and create new guidelines for awarding punitive damages. It would reduce spending by $40 billion over the next decade, and was a response to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) call for each committee to make spending cuts during this year’s budget process in order to offset the spending increases in last year’s budget deal. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) expressed concerns that the bill would violate states’ rights by setting a $250,000 cap on compensation for non-economic damages to a patient. Rep. Poe, a former judge, stated his belief that states without liability limits don’t want them and the federal government should not make that decision for state courts. Their remarks were echoed by Ranking Member John Conyers (D-N.Y.) and committee members Hank Johnson (D-Wis.) and Jarred Nadler (D-N.Y.). In describing their opposition to the bill, committee democrats cited a letter from 29 groups opposing the legislation. The conservative backlash came as a surprise to the author of the malpractice bill, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). According to Rep. Franks, the bill had been introduced in previous congresses and was identical to legislation previously reported out of the Judiciary Committee with the support of both Reps. Poe and Gohmert. The Committee has not rescheduled the markup, but Rep. Franks said he would be adding language to the bill clarifying the issue of states’ rights.

First Appropriations Bill Reported out of Subcommittee

The Military-Construction-Veterans Affairs draft-spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2017 was released by House appropriators last week and adopted by the subcommittee by voice vote. The $81.6 billion bill exceeds current spending levels by $1.8 billion but comes in below the White House’s budget request of $82.8 billion. The bill is in keeping with the budget deal’s top line spending limits. The Department of Veterans Affairs would receive $73.5 billion, a three percent increase above FY 2016 levels. An emphasis was placed on VA oversight provisions. The bill also includes $260 million to update the VA’s electronic health record (EHR) system and $850 million in additional funding for the purposes of veteran health care needs, including the treatment of hepatitis C and long-term care.

Zika Update

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel advisory due to Zika spread to Cuba. The CDC is also reminding health officials to use standard protective gear when delivering babies to prevent Zika infection or transmission of the virus to newborns during labor and delivery procedures. The agency recommended that women wait at least two months, and men at least six months, before attempting to conceive after being infected with Zika. The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its Zika projections and announced that it expects more than 2,500 babies will be born with microcephaly if the current rate of Zika virus outbreaks continues. To date, 39 percent of the 2,212 cases investigated – 863 babies – have been born with the rare congenital condition. WHO officials also announced that it has received only $3 million of the $56 million needed from its member countries to fight the Zika virus. Lawmakers recessed last week without voting on an emergency-funding request to combat the Zika virus, despite repeated appeals from the Administration, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other top Democrats in Congress. House Republicans support the use of unused funds appropriated for the response to Ebola before addressing any additional needs through the regular appropriations process.

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