This is not the National Enquirer or some "fake news" outlet and we are not kidding. Next week, the U.S. House is voting on a bill - already voted out of the House Judiciary Committee - that will provide liability protections to doctors who harm patients. It will cover those who commit unthinkable acts like sexually abusing children.
To put the implications of such a bill in perspective, consider the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s recent investigative series about doctors around the country who commit sexual abuse. The paper, “examined documents that described disturbing acts of physician sexual abuse in every state” and found evidence of “[r]apes by OB/GYNs, seductions by psychiatrists, fondling by anesthesiologists and ophthalmologists, and molestations by pediatricians and radiologists.” As far as the abused:
Victims were babies. Adolescents. Women in their 80s. Drug addicts and jail inmates. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse. But it could be anyone.
One of the worst cases of abuse was described in the series and happened several years ago in Delaware.
For more than 15 years, from the mid-1990s to 2010, [Dr. Earl] Bradley is believed to have drugged more than a thousand children with lollipops, then sexually assaulted them and videotaped his crimes. The youngest victims were months old.
In 2010 he was indicted on 471 charges of molesting, raping and abusing children, with more charges added later. He is now serving 14 life terms plus 165 years without parole.
This case was so grotesque that the criminal justice system did step in. But that’s unusual. As AJC found,
[W]hen a physician is the perpetrator, the AJC found, the nation often looks the other way.
Physician-dominated medical boards gave offenders second chances. Prosecutors dismissed or reduced charges, so doctors could keep practicing and stay off sex offender registries. Communities rallied around them.
This type of response (or lack of) demonstrates why civil lawsuits are so important. In the case of Dr. Bradley, the children’s families sued as a class and were able to reach a $123 million settlement, paid for by the those who looked the other way while all this was happening.
Since the AJC series ran, another high-profile case has come to light:
Eighteen women and girls filed a federal lawsuit against disgraced former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, alleging that he sexually assaulted them repeatedly for years during physical examinations.…
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages. It also seeks institutional reform and new measures of accountability to ensure the safety and protection of other young athletes.
If our civil justice system did nothing more than ensure justice and accountability for victims of physician sexual abuse, it would be valuable enough. The civil justice system does far more than that, of course.
But some in Congress don’t see it that way.
Next week, U.S. House leaders will be asking members of Congress to pass HR 1215, a bill that would, among things, establish a federally-mandated across-the-board $250,000 “cap” on compensation for “non-economic” injuries in health care – related lawsuits. Those kinds of injuries include things like suffering and trauma for abuse victims.
Even if the bill were limited to typical medical malpractice cases, the impact on children would be profound. For example, Rand researchers found, according to the insurance industry's own data, that, “The largest effect [of a non-economic damages cap] was in pediatrics.” Children.
But the bill’s expansive definitions of the types of “health care lawsuits” and “health care liability claims” covered by this bill make clear that those benefiting from this legislation will include doctors who sexually abuse patients.
This is what the U.S. House has decided to do next week. I ask (rhetorically), "How many more weeks of this Congress do we have left?"