House Passes Bill to Overhaul Skilled Nursing Liability Laws

The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would limit skilled nursing and other health care providers’ liability in malpractice cases, prompting praise from industry groups but concern from patient advocates.

The Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017 would establish federal statutes of limitation on lawsuits stemming from injuries incurred at any health care facility that receives federal subsidies — including Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements as well as indirect tax benefits. The bill, which passed the House with a relatively slim 218-210 margin, would also cap the amount of money that plaintiffs could receive at $250,000, a figure that juries hearing malpractice cases would not necessarily need to know.

Should the law pass as is, patients and residents would have either three years from the date of the injury or one year from discovering the injury — whichever comes first — to file a lawsuit against a provider. The legislation would also absolve providers of all responsibility stemming from the use of Food and Drug Administration-approved medications.


Shortly after the House approved the legislation, the American Health Care Association issued a statement lauding the move.

“Rising liability costs to an already underfunded sector not only threaten access to care but can also cost jobs,” AHCA president and CEO Mark Parkinson said. “This legislation helps at a time when we need it the most. Now more than ever, it’s important to preserve dwindling resources to improve the lives of those who need it and deserve better. We applaud the passage of this bill and look forward to working with members of the Senate.”

David Norsworthy of the Fort Smith, Ark.-based Central Arkansas Nursing Centers, Inc. — where voters will be able to vote on a tort reform initiative in 2018 — similarly praised the bill.


“As we fought to get tort reform on the ballot in Arkansas, it became very clear very quickly how much of our economy is under siege from excessive and unfounded litigation,” Norsworthy said in a statement e-mailed to Skilled Nursing News from the AHCA; Norsworthy serves on its board of governors.

“We work every day to better our outcomes of quality care. When lawyers file suits on behalf of every resident they can find, not just those with legitimate claims, it hangs a constant threat of reduced services over every facility,” Norsworthy said. “The lawyers frame these actions as going after the deep pockets of an owner or operator, when in fact they hurt every staff member and resident we serve.”

The American Association for Justice, an organization that advocates for citizens’ rights to seek remedies through the American legal system, was harsh in its rebuke of the legislation.

“With today’s vote, the House once again prioritized the interests of health care corporations and the insurance industry at the expense of safe, affordable medical care for Americans,” AAJ president Julie Braman Kane said in a statement. “H.R. 1215 shamefully protects negligent medical providers, abusive nursing home corporations, and careless drug companies when they place profits ahead of quality care.”

Written by Alex Spanko

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