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HHS Secretary gently weaves in tort reform as part of healthcare reform

(NEWS) The tort litigation process of this land is close to potentially being overhauled. And you may not have even noticed.

tom price hhs

Happenings on The Hill

Seven far-reaching bills, supported by the Republicans and vehemently opposed by consumer groups, are now making its way through Congress.

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Colloquially known as “tort reform,” with Mr. Trump in the White House, the prospects of enacting business-friendly litigation looks promising.

But we are short on details.

Tort reform

In his joint address to Congress, President Trump specifically mentioned his support for measures to “implement legal reforms that protect patients and doctors from unnecessary costs that drive up the price of insurance.”

This was a direct reference to the Protecting Access to Care Act (H.R. 1215), which caps medical malpractice awards, non-economic damages at $250,000.

In theory, the supports of reform argue that by making liability laws less complex, and cutting out frivolous lawsuits, medical costs shall come down.

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Gears in motion

Last month, the Senate confirmed Rep. Thomas Price (R-GA) to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

A staunch opponent of Obamacare, Mr. Price, a former orthopedic surgeon, is expected to implement the President’s reform plan.

In a March 2nd speech accompanying Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary Price called tort reform “defensive medicine” which went wholly unnoticed.

Rockin’ the boat

Critics immediately pointed out two contractions. First, they contend, that there is simply no evidence that liability restrictions lower insurance costs.

Secondly, President Trump’s support for tort reform directly puts him at odds with many conservatives who object to Congress interfering with tort laws, a traditional domain of individual states.

What are implications beyond healthcare?

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Anything for the agenda

Does medical liability reform imply a broader civil justice reform agenda?

Will the President approve tort reform bills when they reach his desk?

Joanne Doroshow at the Center for Justice & Democracy in New York, advised against that interpretation.(https://bol.bna.com/trump-seen-as-supportive-of-business-backed-litigation-bills/). Medical malpractice, she said, has “nothing to do with the other bills that exonerate misconduct by large industries, about which he said nothing.”

He gets a bill, she gets a bill, EVERYONE GETS A BILL

A quick glance at the bills, five of them currently in the House, certainly establish their diversity, and non-medical nature.

The bills propose changes that include: provisions to rewrite class-action practice; support defendants resisting cases in plaintiff-friendly state courts; punish attorneys filing bogus claims; seek limits on settlements by the EPA and DOJ; and impose stringent disclosure requirements on asbestos victims claiming compensation.

The President has been entirely silent on these six bills in Congress right now.

Other than President Trump’s medical liability reform comments, and one oblique reference to asbestos, there has been no other speeches, interviews or comments to gauge the President’s views.

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Gettin turnt up for tort

Supporters of tort reform, however, seem to be charged up. They are undeterred by President Trump’s specific mention of “medical” litigation reform.

Sherman Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association, told Bloomberg, “we’ll eagerly make the case to the White House and fence-sitters in Congress that, just as meritless litigation makes health care less affordable and accessible, it also undermines economic growth and job creation — two of President Trump’s top priorities.”

However, nothing is certain.

All six bills differ in scope and while they are expected to pass the House, uncertainty in the Senate remains high, where democrats are expected to filibuster some (if not all) of the bills.

Why has President Trump been silent?

A possible explanation is this: because civil litigation puts his administration at odds with its own policy stance.

Corporate America has always been bent on limiting class actions and push arbitration over jury trials.

PresidentTrump is from the business world, and being a subject of many civil lawsuits himself, is perhaps in line with big business’s agenda.

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But such a position directly betrays the rights of grassroots America, his biggest supporters. Curtailing ‘trial by jury’ or the right to take a corporation to court will prove unpopular.

Moreover, business-backed litigation would limit the power of states to go after big businesses—another conflict of policy for President Trump, who is a big supporter of strong state powers, as reiterated in the Congress speech.

Huge repercussions

As President Trump likes to often say, this is going to be huge.

[clickToTweet tweet=”What is at stake is the American citizen’s right to take business entities to court.” quote=”What is at stake is the American citizen’s right to take business entities to court (the 7th Amendment) or, alternatively, the freedom from frivolous litigation, depending on where you stand on the issue. “]Much remains to be resolved in the coming months. For now, all eyes should be on the House floor.

#Tort

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Barnil is a Staff Writer at The American Genius. With a Master's Degree in International Relations, Barnil is a Research Assistant at UT, Austin. When he hikes, he falls. When he swims, he sinks. When he drives, others honk. But when he writes, people read.

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