Feinstein Bails on Plan for Malpractice Compromise

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein has dropped efforts for now to arrange a compromise on medical malpractice legislation, citing opposition from physicians pushing for limits on jury awards.

Feinstein, D-Calif., had been working with Republican leaders on a compromise that would double the $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages that is included in the House-passed legislation. The damages include compensation for injuries such as the loss of a limb or of sight.

"I continue to believe in the importance of medical malpractice insurance liability reform," Feinstein said Thursday. But she said the compromise she had been developing with Senate GOP leaders Bill Frist of Tennessee and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky "is not being supported by the major medical associations."

"At this time, I do not see the value of introducing legislation that is opposed by the very doctors I am trying to help," Feinstein said.

Officials at the American Medical Association, which represents physicians, denied opposing the proposal.

"We have not closed the door on anything," said Dr. Donald Palmisano, the AMA's president-elect. "We're open to discussion but we want to make sure that policy is decided on proven facts."

Palmisano said the group's experts still were examining the proposal to see if it would tackle the malpractice problem.

Physicians have said action is needed because frivolous lawsuits are driving up the cost of malpractice insurance and leading doctors to move to other states or curb their medical practices to stay in business.

While the House legislation limits noneconomic damages, it would not limit compensation for loss of wages, medical bills, funeral expenses or other economic damages.

The cap on noneconomic damages has been the main point of contention with the bill. Many senators have complained it is unfair to spouses, children or poor people unable to show any loss of wages.

The Senate compromise would have increased to $500,000 the cap on those damages and would have allowed awards up to $2 million in cases of severe disfigurement or death.

Neither the House nor Senate versions would pre-empt noneconomic caps already law in about half the states.

The House legislation also limits punitive damages -- those that punish a physician for serious mistakes -- to twice the amount of economic damages awarded or $250,000, whichever is greater.