CBO scores community health center medical liability bill

A bill extending federal medical liability protections to community health center volunteers would cost about four times more than bill advocates anticipated, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The Family Health Care Accessibility Act, which cleared the Energy and Commerce Committee in late July, would cost about $18 million over five years, according to CBO, with annual expenditures progressively rising to $6 million in 2015. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a co-sponsor along with Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), said earlier estimates were of $1.5 million a year.

Still, the bill remains inexpensive by federal standards. And because it would be funded by annual appropriations, it's not subject to pay-as-you-go rules.

The bill would amend the Federal Tort Claims Act, which provides liability protection to employees and contractors of certain health centers because they're considered federal employees. The bill would grant that protection to healthcare professionals who volunteer at those centers.

Murphy and Green have said 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.

"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 before the August recess.