New federal legislation seeks to shield physicians from COVID lawsuits

By Sarah Downey National Source

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  • June 30, 2020

SOURCE: North California Record

As the effort to provide liability protections amid the COVID-19 pandemic continues, a bill introduced in the U.S. House May 28 seeks to safeguard physicians and other health professionals working on the front lines.

“During this global pandemic, physicians have been dedicated to preserving and protecting the health of the American public under extremely difficult and challenging circumstances, often at risk to themselves,” Katie Orrico, vice chair of the Health Coalition on Liability and Access, told the Northern California Record by email.

The Coronavirus Provider Protection Act (H.R. 7059), sponsored by U.S. Reps. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) and Lou Correa (D-CA), has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

“Providers deserve to know that they won’t lose their livelihoods because they pitched in and did the right thing trying to care for patients during the pandemic,” Roe told the Record.

“Our legislation is a targeted effort to provide protections to physicians whose care was altered as a result of state or local restrictions to prevent COVID-19.

“Examples could include physicians who were forced to cancel or delay scheduled appointments, physicians who volunteered to help treat COVID-19 patients outside of their general scope of practice, or physicians who had to provide urgently-needed or emergency care despite inadequate supplies of PPE. These heroes stepped up to take care of patients during a critical time, and we can ensure the government has their back too,” Roe said.

The bill covers providers who exercised good-faith attempts to care for patients in accordance with state and local regulations, but does not provide protections to physicians who engaged in gross negligence or willful misconduct.

While at least 17 states have passed civil liability protections, legislation at the federal level is essential, Orrico said.

“Plaintiff attorneys have already begun filing COVID-19-related lawsuits, and lawsuits, even those without merit, cost time and money, which clearly interferes with the country’s economic recovery. More importantly, such lawsuits distract health care providers from keeping laser-focused on caring for their patients,” Orrico said.

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The American Medical Association and the California Medical Association also support the measure.

“We commend Reps. Roe and Correa for recognizing that reasonable liability protections are in the best interest of our country as we continue to combat COVID-19 and begin to recover from this pandemic,” AMA President Patrice Harris said.