The unending tort reform battle continues, this time at the Federal level on Capitol Hill as Congress gets ready to debate H.R. 5, a bill that would establish federal limits on damages in medical malpractice suits.
Known as the HEALTH (Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare) Act, the bill proposes to cap damages in medical malpractice suits and put in place other controls that will limit lawsuits in the medical malpractice field. Specifically, punitive damages under the bill would be capped at $250,000, while certain fees and payments to attorneys would be limited, among other reforms.
This tort reform language of the HEALTH Act has been lumped together with language that would repeal the Independent Payment Adivosry Board (IPAB) that is a crucial component of ObamaCare. And it is expected that the House could take a vote on the bill as early as next week.
Debates about tort reform are certainly nothing new, but the HEALTH Act takes things to a new level by introducing tort reform at the Federal instead of State level. That makes this particular tort reform effort a Constitutional issue that calls into question the powers of Congress and states’ rights under the 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. In other words, under the 10th Amendment, individual states retain power over everything that has not been specifically delegated to Congress. That includes the power that states have over their own judicial systems and tort law. Attempts by Congress to mandate specific tort law and tort damages overstep the boundary of Federal authority.
Tort reform is a contentious issue. There is hardly national agreement over whether any amount of tort reform is wise and if it is wise, what that reform might look like. And there certainly isn’t conclusive evidence that tort reform is the correct strategy for controlling the costs of health care in the country. Those are important issues to be decided for sure—but they are not issues that should be decided at the Federal level. Tort law is a state issue and so is tort reform.