A Move by Congress to Take Away Patients' Rights, Stopped in Its Tracks

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the latest research. The Washington Post wrote, “A new study by patient-safety researchers…shows that ‘medical errors’ in hospitals and other healthcare facilities are incredibly common and may now be the third-leading cause of death in the United States – claiming 251,000 lives every year, more than respiratory disease, accidents, stroke and Alzheimer’s.”

Tackling this problem should be a priority. Yet many insurance companies and big medical companies try to shirk responsibility for patient safety. For years, they have lobbied to curtail the legal rights of people who are injured and the families of those killed.

We saw it again this year. In March, U.S. Representative Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) introduced H.R. 4771, which would limit the ability of injured patients and their families to hold health care and medical products providers accountable. The bill is so broadly drafted that it would curtail the rights not just of those harmed by medical error, but also of those neglected in a nursing home, sickened by a drug, or sexually abused by a health care provider.

Instead of holding a hearing on the bill, the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives scheduled a markup, where members would vote on amendments and vote to advance the bill, without hearing testimony from experts.

But what happened at the markup was remarkable: the bill faced bipartisan opposition. After several Representatives spoke against the bill, they started to leave the room, and the session was soon adjourned for lack of a quorum. Nothing has happened with the bill since then.

A small victory in the fight to protect patient safety over corporate profits.