Medical malpractice insurance bill clears House subpanel

A bill that would have the federal government cover medical malpractice costs for physicians who volunteer at community health centers cleared the Energy and Commerce panel's health subcommittee on Thursday.

The sponsors of the bipartisan Family Health Care Accessibility Act, Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Gene Green (D-Texas), say the bill would enable underserved communities to have access to care at minimal cost to the government. The bill extends to volunteers the medical liability protections currently offered by the Federal Tort Claims Act to physicians employed at community health centers.

"Extending medical liability protections to volunteer physicians would result in more doctors and more patients being served at a lower cost to these centers," Murphy said. "And the cost to do this is pennies on the dollar. It is estimated that extension of FTCA protection would cost the federal government just $1.5 million a year, but it would serve millions more new patients."

Murphy and Green say physicians who currently want to volunteer have to pay as much as $100,000 a year in medical malpractice insurance, making it too costly for them to do so. At the same time, the new healthcare reform law increased funding for community health centers by $11 billion and requires them to cover as many as 40 million patients — twice the current number — by 2015 because of the law's Medicaid expansion.

"This is the third time we’ve moved the bill out of committee, and I’m hoping that the Senate will be able to get behind the bill," Green said. "It is extremely important to the community health centers in my area and across the country to be able to bring on licensed medical practitioners willing to volunteer their time with the support of federal liability coverage."

The health panel unanimously passed the bill with a recommendation for passage by the full committee.