House to vote on health board repeal

House Republicans have set up a vote next week to repeal a board created by the 2010 healthcare law that the GOP has criticized as a rationing board that could force Medicare cuts without congressional approval.

Republicans plan to move H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act, as early as next week. The legislation was originally a medical tort-reform bill, but a version of the bill that appeared Tuesday on the House Rules Committee website included new language to repeal the Independent Payment Adivsory Board (IPAB).

The Rules Committee has set an amendment deadline for March 19, a sign that it could approve a rule for the bill early next week and send it to the House floor soon afterward.

The tort-reform title of the bill would cap punitive damages in medical lawsuits at $250,000, limit contingency fees and other payments to lawyers and install other reforms aimed at reining in limitless legal actions against doctors. Republicans have said these reforms would reduce government healthcare spending by about $50 billion over a decade.

Republicans appear to see the tort reform bill as a way to pay for IPAB repeal. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office said repealing the IPAB would cost about $3 billion.

But Republicans will likely lose some Democratic support by coupling the two issues, as Democrats roundly oppose the tort-reform bill.

Democrats wrote a lengthy critique against the tort-reform language in a report accompanying the bill, saying among other things that the bill would pre-empt state laws that might set other limits on punitive damage awards. But Republicans noted that some of these reforms are based on California law, such as the $250,000 cap, and that these reforms are needed to help lower medical costs.

The American medical lawsuit system is broken, Republicans wrote in the bill report. According to one study, 40 percent of claims are meritless, in that either no injury or no error occurred in the case.

Attorneys fees and administrative costs eat away 54 percent of the compensation that should be paid to plaintiffs. And completely meritless claims (which are nonetheless successful approximately one in four times) account for nearly a quarter of total administrative costs.