Assembly Set to Spar with Senate, Cuomo Over Malpractice Caps

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The State Senate and Assembly are expected to pass their versions of the state budget Tuesday, kicking off budget negotiations in earnest.

One big difference between the two houses is over the Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to cap medical malpractice awards.

Doctors and hospitals have been pressuring politicians to limit malpractice awards for years, and now they're close. Cuomo has proposed a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. Those are the awards associated with "pain and suffering"— not the awards for lost income or for continued medical treatment.

Assembly Democrats said the proposed limit lets doctors and hospitals off the hook and takes away one of consumers' strongest safeguards.

"In our debates on the budget, I would say the vast majority of my Democratic colleagues were adamantly opposed to it and saw it as a real denial of the rights of people who were seriously injured," said Richard Gottfried, Chairman of the Assembly's Health Committee. "But where this will come out in negotiations is anyone's guess."

The Assembly has omitted the proposal from its version of the budget — setting up a showdown with Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, and with Senate Republicans, who favor the cap.

Including the award was crucial to getting support from the medical community for the governor's entire Medicaid Redesign package, which proposed dozens of cuts to trim $2.3 billion from the Medicaid budget. Much of the savings comes from either cutting or freezing medical reimbursement rates or raising taxes and surcharges.

Groups such as the Greater New York Hospital Association and the Hospital Association of New York State have said the malpractice cap is a crucial part of helping them save money by lowering malpractice insurance rates.

Trial lawyers and their allies said many states with damages caps have seen no decrease in malpractice insurance premiums.