WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Monday blocked Republican medical malpractice legislation during the GOP’s opening session of a “health week” of proposals designed to win support from conservative voters – if not passage.
The dispatch of a pair of bills to cap the amount of damages juries can award in medical malpractice cases has been expected since last week. The roll calls fell well short of the 60 votes Republicans needed to advance the bills.
President Bush said he was disappointed by the Senate’s failure to act “on this national problem that deserves a national solution.”
“Unwilling to take on their trial lawyer supporters, the Democrats led this effort to block these much-needed reforms,” Bush said in a statement issued hours after the votes.
Republicans forced votes on the bills to demonstrate the GOP’s commitment to fighting what Majority Leader Bill Frist called a “litigation lottery.”
“It really boils down to the fact that health care dollars should be spent on patients and not on lawyers who are out abusing the system,” said Frist, R-Tenn.
Democrats have dismissed the bills as a boon to the insurance industry and an election year effort by majority Republicans struggling with low poll numbers to maintain control of Congress. They said other bills, such as federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, should be brought up during the GOP’s “health week.”
“I guess we’re going to have bills that excite the political base,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
The first bill would have capped punitive and pain and suffering judgments against a physician or health care professional at $250,000 and allowed patients to be awarded up to $250,000 against one health care institution. Judgments against more than one institution would be capped at $750,000. The other bill would have imposed similar caps.