Bill heading to Senate may limit medical malpractice suits

Congress is considering a bill that may profoundly limit the ability of Pittsburgh residents to get just compensation for medical errors that leave them injured. Although the bill is not yet law, the House of Representatives passed it, and the Senate will debate it in the coming weeks.

Currently, victims of medical negligence can rely on standards of care codified as guidelines under certain federal health insurance programs to show that a healthcare provider was negligent. For example, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act all provide standards for measuring the quality of care that a doctor provides. These standards are, to some degree, black and white guides that can be used as a measuring stick to see whether a doctor provided appropriate care to his or her patient.

Under this new bill, however, people would be prevented from using these federal standards as evidence that a doctor was negligent in treating his or her patients. Instead, physicians and those who are allied with them will have the benefit of making patients rely on the opinions of expert witnesses, that is to say other physicians, willing to testify that a fellow doctor's work fell below the standard of care.

If passed, this new federal law could be of concern to injured patients and their families. In the meantime, however, Pennsylvanians should know that there are ways in which they can prove that their doctor, hospital or medical facility was negligent in treating them. Proving negligence is the first key step in getting victims the compensation that they need.

Source: The New York Times, "House provision offers doctors more protection against malpractice suits," Robert Pear, March 30, 2015

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