To call the timing coincidental doesn't give House Republicans enough credit. Tomorrow, while the fallout from Attorney General Jeff Sessions' testimony about his connections to Russia dominates most Capitol Hill news coverage, the House will vote on H.R. 1215, a bill designed to strip injured patients of their day in court. Last week, the same legislators voted to undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under the cover of James Comey's testimony about President Trump's ham-fisted attempts to interfere in the FBI's Russia investigations.
Russia is not the story here. A foreign government's interference in our elections is certainly a scintillating and important topic, but in the time it takes our many investigators to sort it all out, patients and consumers in the U.S. stand to lose protections just as fundamental to our self-determination as a secure, trustworthy voting system that's free from nefarious interference or unconstitutional restrictions on participation.
H.R. 1215, the "Protecting Access to Care Act," is a cynical attempt at changing the rules of the game when patients are injured. Federal laws have typically set a floor for medical malpractice litigation – that is, minimum protections for patients that ensure people who suffer injuries get their day in court regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, or class. But H.R. 1215 turns that system on its head, setting ceilings instead. And they're low ceilings. They'll do more to protect insurance companies than they will to protect patients. CPR Member Scholars Thomas McGarity, Sidney Shapiro, and Rena Steinzor identified some particular concerns with the legislation in a letter to members of Congress.
The chief concerns are:
Tomorrow's vote on H.R. 1215 comes on the heels of last week's party-line vote to pass H.R. 10, known to consumer advocates as the "Wrong CHOICE Act." That legislation would decimate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by eliminating its independent agency status, cutting into its funding, and wiping out its enforcement and oversight tools. CFPB's record of success in its short life includes recovering nearly $12 billion for over 29 million consumers. Not to put too fine a point on it, but CFPB's record is especially remarkable when you consider how strong its advocacy has been in pursuit of racial justice. A couple of highlights, courtesy of Americans for Financial Reform:
The House voted last week to make these kinds of activities more difficult for CFPB. Tomorrow, members will decide whether injured patients deserve justice and compensation. In both cases, the interests of vulnerable people with limited political clout are coming up against powerful, politically connected corporate special interests. It's not hard to imagine which way this is going.