Jean Simmons kept moving her mother Betty from one nursing home to another after discovering mistreatment and neglect by her mother’s caregivers. When her mother died recently at a nursing home in East Texas, Ms. Simmons wanted justice for the woman who raised her while maybe preventing someone else’s parent from spending the waning years of life in misery.
But Texas – like more than 30 other states – has a cap on damages for medical malpractice and nursing home abuse cases, which effectively prevents Ms. Simmons from holding the nursing home company accountable. “It is a lose-lose, because your loved one is suffering and you don’t even want validation or money for it,” Simmons said. “You just want good care. And you still can’t get that.”
Medical Errors Pegged as Third Leading Cause of Death
You’ve probably heard or read about nursing home abuse cases like that of Ms. Simmons, or stories about terrible mistakes at hospitals and clinics, or reports about medical devices that fail and cause serious injury or death.
So why in the world would anyone propose a new bill in Washington, D.C., that would make it nearly impossible for you to pursue lawsuits and hold insurance companies and big corporations accountable for these mistakes? But that’s exactly what this new legislation would do, capping damages on medical malpractice and nursing home abuse lawsuits to $250,000. Other restrictions would protect for-profit nursing homes, insurance providers and even caregivers who intentionally abuse a patient.
Supporters of these measures argue that they are necessary to deter greedy patients from exploiting doctors and health care facilities for personal gain. Many say that caps will keep health care costs down by reducing the amount of money paid out for medical malpractice lawsuits and insurance. But the experts tell a very different story.
- Nearly half a million people die from preventable medical errors each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer. In addition, 10 to 20 times more people are seriously injured. Caps do nothing to make health care safer and instead protect the financial interests of big corporations and insurance companies rather than save you money.
- Lawyers are not filling the courts with frivolous medical malpractice and nursing home abuse lawsuits. Medical malpractice lawsuits are rare and make up only 0.2 to 2 percent of all civil cases each year, and that number continues to decrease.
- Instead of lowering health care costs, research shows that costs have actually increased by about 4 to 5 percent in states with damage caps.
And something else you should know about these laws: They allow the federal government to override state laws that protect consumers and patients in favor of laws that protect corporate health care at the expense of patient safety.
The founders of this country knew how important it was to arm the average citizen with the right to hold powerful special interests accountable in a court of law. Restricting that right in cases of negligent medical and nursing home care will only punish those who have already suffered enough while actually reducing the incentive for big corporations and insurance companies to address the epidemic of preventable medical errors.
Later this month, the House of Representatives will take the first step in restricting this right for all Americans by voting on House Resolution 1215. If passed, the bill will then move on to the Senate and eventually the President’s desk. We urge you to take a closer look at this legislation, and if you feel the same way as we do, contact your members of Congress and make your voice heard on this important issue.