The Protecting Access to Healthcare Act (H.R. 5)

March 22, 2012

Republicans are committed to strengthening and reforming Medicare to protect today’s seniors and ensure the program is there for the next generation. To do so, we need to acknowledge the challenges facing the program and embrace sensible solutions. The truth is, Medicare is in serious trouble. According to an independent board of trustees, the Medicare trust fund will be bankrupt in 2024.

In the absence of a plan to strengthen Medicare, the president’s health care law raided over $700 billion from the program to finance new entitlement programs and created the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).

IPAB is a board of 15 unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats tasked with making major Medicare cuts, which are likely to severely limit seniors’ access to treatments and services.

Even the most basic legislative checks and balances have been stripped away, giving enormous power to this Medicare cutting board. To date, not one member has been appointed to the board. However, the lack of IPAB appointees does not limit the power of this Medicare cutting panel – in fact, it concentrates it in the hands of a single, unelected official. Without a functioning IPAB, the Secretary of HHS retains sole power of the board.

For all of these reasons, the Medicare Decisions Accountability Act – which repeals IPAB – has drawn widespread support. In addition to the over 230 cosponsors in the House, more than 390 groups representing employers, health groups, patients and doctors have voiced support for the bipartisan legislation.

As we seek solutions for Medicare, a fundamental first step is to recognize that one of the greatest challenges facing our nation’s health care system – including Medicare – is rapidly rising costs.

That’s where medical liability reform comes in. The PATH Act, which includes Rep. Phil Gingrey’s (R-GA) HEALTH Act, is also designed to address one of the most significant health care cost drivers by delivering comprehensive medical liability reform. The current broken liability system forces doctors to practice defensive medicine and places an estimated $210 billion burden on our health care system as a whole.

Twenty-eight states have already enacted medical liability reform that includes caps on non-economic damages. The HEALTH Act is modeled on these successful state laws, protecting patients’ rights while curbing lawsuits that drive up costs for everyone. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Ensures plaintiffs can recover full economic losses, but limits non-economic damages to $250,000. The bill establishes a fair-share rules that apportions damages based on a defendant’s degree of fault.
  • Establishes a sliding scale for attorney contingency fees to ensure patients can access legal representation without forfeiting an exorbitant share of the damages they are awarded to trial lawyers.
  • Sets standards for the award of punitive damages, including a limit on the amount of punitive damages to two times the amount of economic damages awarded or $250,000, whichever is greater. Punitive damages are not intended to compensate the injured party but rather punish malicious behavior.
  • Allows courts to require periodic payments of damage awards.

Despite promises to lower health care costs, the president’s health care law accelerates the increases in health care spending.  To protect patients and taxpayers, and to restore the doctor-patient relationship in Medicare, this legislation pairs repeal of the controversial IPAB with common-sense medical liability reforms that will save billions of dollars. The legislation produces approximately $48 billion in savings for taxpayers, offsetting the $3 billion cost of repealing the IPAB and producing additional savings for taxpayers and our health system more broadly.

The PATH Act was approved by the House of Representatives on March 22, 2012, with a bipartisan vote of 223-181.