Bill proposes funding to promote apologies to patients

A new bill would create a voluntary federal program to help hospitals negotiate fair compensation with patients harmed by medical errors as an alternative to lawsuits.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), is modeled on an initiative called “Sorry Works!” in which hospitals own up to errors and apologize to the patients affected.

There is no companion bill in the House. Apologies can reduce malpractice lawsuits against providers and lower the compensation sought by patients, the senators said at a news conference.

Under the bill, federal grants would be available to help hospitals set up negotiation programs, hire patient-safety experts and track patient-safety trends. At deadline, the cost of the bill had not been estimated.

Participating hospitals and malpractice insurers would be required to use part of any savings to reduce physicians’ malpractice premiums. In addition, the bill would create a national medical-errors database and set up an Office of Patient Safety and Health Care Quality within HHS.

A new law signed this summer already authorized HHS to establish a medical-errors reporting system and a national network of databases. At deadline, it was unclear how the database provisions of the Clinton-Obama bill relate to the new law.

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