If you have an elderly loved one who currently lives in a nursing home or assisted-living facility in San Diego County, it is important to learn more about proposed federal legislation that could starkly limit civil protections for victims of elder abuse. According to a recent article in East County Magazine, the bill at issue, H.R. 1215, “will effectively end California’s 20-plus year civil protection system for victims of elder abuse or neglect perpetrated by health care providers.” The bill has been named the “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017,” but elder safety advocates argue that, if the name of the bill more accurately reflected its content and possible aims, it would be called “Obstruction of Justice for the Injured,” according to the article.
What do you need to know about the particulars of this bill and the harms that could arise if this proposed legislation passes?
Learning More About H.R. 1215: Protection Access to Care Act of 2017
What is this bill and what is it supposed to do? The text of the bill indicates that its aim is “to improve patient access to health care services and provide improved medical care by reducing the excessive burden the liability system places on the health care delivery system.” Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, introduced the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on February 24, 2017. The language of the bill suggests that its primary purposes are to improve access to health care by doing some of the following:
- Reducing the cost of liability insurance (which certain health care providers must have);
- Lowering the incidence rate of “defensive medicine”; and
- Ensuring that “persons with meritorious health care injury claims receive fair and adequate compensation, including reasonable noneconomic damages.”
All of this might sound like a step in the right direction if we want to reduce the costs of medical care for seniors in California and to increase the availability of services. However, as the article explains, the bill proposes to do this by effectively putting a cap on noneconomic damage awards. Indeed, the text of H.R. 1215 clarifies that, in compensating patient injury, “in any health care lawsuit, the amount of noneconomic damages, if available, shall not exceed $250,000, regardless of the number of parties against whom the action is brought or the number of separate claims or actions brought with respect to the same injury.”
Why is this potentially devastating for nursing home abuse lawsuits in San Diego County?
California Law and Nursing Home Abuse Claims
As the article in East County Magazine explains, although California state law already places a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in other medical negligence claims, this cap does not apply to nursing home abuse claims. “Elder and dependent adult abuse cases are rightfully exempt.” To clarify, noneconomic damages are a form of compensatory damages that compensate a patient for losses that cannot be objectively quantified—such as loss of enjoyment of life or pain and suffering.
California currently recognizes that compensation for such noneconomic losses in cases of elder abuse should not be limited to $250,000. If H.R. 1215 passes, however, “liability for extreme abuse and neglect will be limited to $250,000, creating a system where poor health care practices would be profitable,” according to the article. Although the aims of the bill may be desirable—to lower health care costs and increase available health care—the article contends that H.R. 1215 “will only serve to insulate bad actors from liability, deny any meaningful remedy for those they injure, and ultimately cost taxpayers billions of dollars.”
Contact a San Diego County Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
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(image courtesy of Josh Rinard)