Two U.S. House members from both political parties have introduced legislation that would protect radiologists and other healthcare workers from frivolous lawsuits while treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Coronavirus Provider Protection Act” would shield physicians, nurses and others who have made “good faith” attempts to care for their community in recent months. Those who engage in gross negligence or willful misconduct, however, would still be at risk in court, Reps. Phil Roe, MD, R-Tenn., and Lou Correa, D-Calif., said in a joint statement issued Friday.
“Healthcare providers have gone above and beyond to meet whatever challenges they’ve faced, but now we owe it to them to ensure they are protected from frivolous litigation,” said Roe, who is also co-chair of the House GOP Doctors Caucus. “Our bill will provide targeted protections to providers who had to change how care was delivered based on public health recommendations that were constantly changing, sometimes daily.”
Roe and Correa offered several examples of such changes that might be covered by their legislation. They include suspensions of nonurgent care and delays in treatment for patients without COVID symptoms; workforce shortages that are forcing physicians to work outside of their area of expertise; equipment scarcities that may have forced some to ration care; and delayed or inaccurate COVID diagnoses because of inadequate testing supplies.
Their legislation would build upon protections spelled out in the CARES Act, protecting providers from legal liability while volunteering. It would, however, maintain “critical protections for patients harmed as a result of gross negligence or misconduct,” the Congress members emphasized. The American Medical Association said that it supports the legislation.
“Physicians and other healthcare professionals are putting themselves at risk every day while facing shortages of medical supplies and safety equipment, as well as changing directives and guidance from all levels of government. These healthcare professionals now face the threat of years of costly litigation due to circumstances that are beyond their control,” President Patrice Harris, MD, said in the same statement.
Sen Ben Sasse, R-Neb., introduced a similar legislation in the Senate back in March, hoping to shield providers from a “plague of lawsuits” during the pandemic. The Republican party has deemed such liability protections for healthcare and other businesses as a top priority in the next round of legislative relief. Several states—including New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania—have enacted their own liability shields, and the American College of Radiology has urged its state chapters to reach out to their governors and ask for the same.