Senate stimulus bill introduced with COVID-19 liability protections
A second economic stimulus bill introduced in the U.S. Senate this week (S. 4317, the “Safeguarding America’s Frontline Employees To Offer Work Opportunities Required to Kickstart the Economy Act” or the “SAFE TO WORK Act”) incorporates important liability protections for frontline medical providers and facilities.
The issue has remained unresolved at the federal level since the start of the pandemic. This is of particular concern given the national nature of the crisis and the lack or inadequacy of sufficient state-level protections.
Language in the bill creates an exclusive federal cause of action for injuries resulting from the treatment, diagnosis, or care of coronavirus, or care directly affected by the coronavirus. In addition, the bill preserves state laws which provide even greater levels of protection for our frontline healthcare professionals. The HCLA has also supported a bipartisan standalone bill, H.R. 7059, that addresses the legal vulnerabilities faced by healthcare providers as a result of the pandemic.
Both H.R. 7059 and S. 4317 appropriately exclude liability protections in situations of gross negligence or willful misconduct.
Speaking in support of the bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated, “Nobody should have to face an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic that we already have related to the coronavirus.”
The stimulus bill remains subject to continued negotiations among the Senate, the White House, and the House, with all parties expressing hope that an agreement will come quickly to address a range of needs by workers and consumers who have been faced with economic challenges in the wake of COVID-19.
HCLA offers lessons learned to Senate HELP Committee
Ahead of the stimulus bill and in an effort to share lessons learned, the HCLA expressed its position on liability protections to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee following a hearing on future pandemic preparations.
Highlighting the role that HCLA members have played at the forefront of the health crisis, the statement spoke in support of the HELP Committee’s purpose of the hearing.
“This experience offers us the opportunity to revisit medical liability issues and the threats they have posed to physicians, patients and healthcare systems as a whole — and what we can learn and act on ahead of a potential second wave and future pandemics,” the statement noted.
The statement to the committee focused on the evolution of the pandemic, as safety gear was in short supply, healthcare providers practiced outside their specialty, retired practitioners returned to the workforce, and non-COVID-19 patients faced delayed treatments and procedures.
“These were unavoidable circumstances as healthcare professionals and facilities shifted limited resources to address urgent needs, including under the recommendations or guidance by government officials,” the statement continued. “The result is that pandemic responders are now susceptible to the threat of substantial liability.”
In short, the HCLA stated, “If we’ve learned one thing from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that a national emergency of this size and scale needs a federal solution.”
The HCLA urged the HELP Committee to “incorporate these lessons by passing medical liability legislation that will protect our nation’s health care providers’ ability to continue to be there for patients when they are needed most.”
To read the statement for the record in full, click here.
Additional legislation for protecting healthcare workers introduced
In addition to Senate stimulus bill language currently working its way through Congress, another bill has been introduced in the House that includes liability protections for healthcare providers and facilities.
H.R. 7538, the Essential Workforce Parity Act, was introduced by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) and incorporates many sought after protections for those on the front lines of the pandemic response.
The HCLA supports Section 3 of the bill due to the solutions it offers to reduce the threat of COVID-19 related liability lawsuits.
“The limited and targeted protection from liability provided by Section 3 will help ensure that healthcare professionals and facilities on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic can focus on helping patients without fear of getting drawn into unwarranted lawsuits,” the HCLA expressed in a letter of support.
for no fault of their own,” Conlin said.
Click here for more information on H.R. 7538 and the necessary protections it includes for pandemic responders.
MICRA faces post-pandemic challenge in California
California’s landmark liability laws are threatened by a ballot question that has garnered enough signatures to appear on the ballot in 2022.
The ballot provision would raise health care costs for all Californians and reduce access to health care to those who need it most. Proponents have aggressively raised $4 million in anticipation of the two-year campaign.
“It’s unfortunate that while California’s health providers are courageously working on the front lines of this pandemic, a few opportunistic trial lawyers have remained focused on a ballot measure that would substantially increase the burden on California’s doctors and clinics while inflating health care costs for everyone,” said a statement issued by the Californians to Protect Patients and Contain Health Care Costs.
“Whether it’s 2020 or 2022, any ballot measure that reduces access to health care and increases costs for all Californians is bad medicine.”
Californians to Protect Patients and Contain Health Care Costs, a coalition of physicians, dentists and healthcare providers, have countered with a website, protectmicra.org, to educate California patients on the safeguards in place to limit medical lawsuit abuse.
For more information about the challenge to MICRA in California, click here