NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Medical Malpractice Insurance Reforms Move to Full House

March 7, 2003

The House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday approved President Bush's proposal to place a $250,000 cap on jury awards for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases. The full House is expected to consider the legislation next week.

The cap would apply not only to suits filed against doctors, but also to those against health maintenance organizations and manufacturers of drugs and medical devices.

Increasingly, doctors have been forced to shut their offices or retire early because of the skyrocketing costs of liability insurance, sparked by excessive jury awards.

The present bill is patterned on a California law passed 27 years ago which has reduced doctors' insurance premiums.

  • Evidence suggests that medical liability insurance premiums there have fallen 40 percent since the law was passed -- to about $14,000 a year.
  • That would be about half the average cost of coverage in states like New York and Pennsylvania.
  • It would be about one-third the cost in West Virginia -- the highest in the country, at $39,050.

Some doctors in New York pay more than $100,000 a year for insurance, and obstetricians in Florida pay $200,000 a year.

Supporters of the caps say that the value of pain and suffering cannot be objectively defined, with one jury awarding perhaps $250,000 while another grants $25 million to an injured patient.

Sources: Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Bush Plan to Curb Malpractice Awards Advances to Full House," New York Times, March 7, 2003; and Joseph B. Treaster, "Malpractice Insurance: No Clear or Easy Answers," New York Times, March 5, 2003.


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