Politics & Government

Blue Dog congressman pushes tort reforms in health bill

WASHINGTON — Just as Texas Republican lawmakers were warning darkly that the latest House healthcare bill would undo the Lone Star State's tort reform, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, persuaded Democratic leaders Monday night to add a "pre-emption" provision which would keep legal reforms already made by Texas and other states to keep medical costs down.

"This bill does not pre-empt tort reform in Texas," said Cuellar on Tuesday, referring to the so-called manager's amendment, which includes last minute changes ordered by Democratic leaders.

"The manager's amendment protects any state, like Texas and California, which have enacted tort reform."

Cuellar, a Blue Dog Democrat, may have gotten the sweetener he needed to support the bill while House Democratic leaders may have gotten one more vote in a hard-fought battle to get the votes to pass the bill.

Asked if he now supported the Affordable Healthcare for America Act, Cuellar smiled and said, "I'm leaning 'yes' now."

Blue Dog Democrats have led the fight to reduce the bill's price tag, now at $1.055 billion.

Texas Republican members Reps. Michael McCaul of Austin, John Culberson of Houston, Kevin Brady of The Woodlands and others met with reporters Tuesday morning to warn that the bill jeopardized the savings that Texas had made with tort reform.

"You could not find an ob/gyn south of San Antonio before 2003," said Culberson, when Texas enacted reform. With the limits on liability and damages, said Culberson, "doctors began moving back."

The new law places limits on medical liability reform joint and several liability and class action reform while a constitutional amendment, Proposition 12, limited noneconomic damages in medical malpractice suits to $750,000.

(Maria Recio is the Star-Telegram’s Washington bureau chief)