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Bill Proposes Cap On Damages Awarded In Medical Malpractice Cases

A House subcommittee heard testimony on a bill that would cap noneconomic medical malpractice damages awarded by a jury.

A subcommittee of the House judiciary committee heard testimony on Wednesday for a bill that would put a cap on the amount of damages awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits.

The bill would make $250,000 the maximum amount a jury could award for non-economic damages. The cap would not impact economic damages awarded for lost wages or healthcare costs.

A number of doctors and medical associations spoke in support of the bill, saying higher awards do not reduce errors and could increase the cost of medical care.

"There are a number of practices across the state that are struggling to even get a quote for malpractice coverage, because medical insurers are concerned about their ability to be able to respond to this exploitation of Iowa soft cap and these non-economic damages," said Dennis Tibben, director of external affairs at the Iowa Medical Association.

But several legal groups opposed the cap saying it’s unconstitutional and would not impact healthcare costs.

"We know that rural hospitals and clinics around the Midwest are struggling," said Chad Swanson, president of the Iowa Association for Justice. "That has everything to do with shrinking patient populations and Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements and a shrinking available workforce but nothing to do with lawsuits."

Rep. Brian Meyer (D-Des Moines), who is on the subcommittee, said he also opposes the bill.

"A six year old child that is a victim of medical malpractice--you put a $250,000 price on that child. That's ridiculous," said Meyer. "Think about what you're doing here. Think about the value of your child. "

In 2016, the Iowa legislature passed a medical liability reform law that put a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, but it excluded cases that involved permanent disfigurment or death.

Sandra Conlin, a lobbyist with the Iowa Medical Association, said since then an increase in the amount of damages awarded by juries, including several cases involving millions of dollars, has brought attention back to the issue in the medical community.

"In the last two years, we've seen a significant change in the large amounts of jury awards that juries in Iowa are giving out," Conlin said. "So we're back to seek a hard cap on non-economic damages."

Last year, a Polk County juryawarded more than $12 million to a retired man who underwent surgery for prostate cancer at the Iowa Clinic, and then learned that because of a lab mix-up, he had been mistakenly diagnosed with the illness.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter