- Medical malpractice cap was a priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds this year
- Majority of Republicans favor, but more independents oppose than favor, malpractice caps
- Majority of city dwellers, suburban Iowans oppose major medical malpractice caps
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By a narrow margin, a plurality of Iowans favor a new $2 million limit on damages for pain and suffering in major medical malpractice cases, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows.
Forty-seven percent of Iowans support the law, while 44% are opposed. Another 10% are not sure.
The poll of 805 Iowa adults was conducted March 5-8 by Selzer & Co. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The poll asked Iowans if they favor or oppose a recently passed law that will “limit how much money Iowans may receive for pain and suffering in major medical malpractice lawsuits to no more than $2 million.”
Poll respondent Bob Griffith, a 67-year-old retired police officer and Mount Pleasant City Council member, said he favors limiting damages in medical malpractice lawsuits because attorneys “should not make a profit on someone else’s misfortune.”
“I think my main problem with the whole thing is the attorneys are making money off of this stuff,” he said. “I can see compensation for someone whose life has changed dramatically due to an injury from a malpractice thing or something like that.”
Paige Daly, a 19-year-old poll respondent from New Market, said she’s opposed to the limits.
“Especially if it’s resulting in the death of a loved one, I feel that the family should definitely be well-accommodated for something so horrendous and so permanent,” said Daly, who goes to school for mortuary science.
More:Kim Reynolds signs limits on damages for pain, suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits
Medical malpractice cap was a priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds this year
Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, made the legislation one of her priorities this year, arguing that the caps would protect health care providers from rising insurance rates, especially in rural areas where care is scarce.
She signed the law on Feb. 16.
It limits damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress — known as noneconomic damages — in the most severe cases of medical malpractice, including when a patient dies or is permanently impaired.
Those damages are limited to $2 million in lawsuits against hospitals and $1 million in lawsuits against clinics and individual doctors.
The law does not limit economic damages, such as money awarded for financial losses, or punitive damages in cases of “willful and wanton disregard” for a patient’s safety.
Majority of Republicans favor, but more independents oppose than favor, malpractice caps
A majority of Republicans (61%) approve of the policy, while 29% are opposed.
More:Iowa Legislature passes $2M cap on medical malpractice damages. Here’s the likely impact:
Among Democrats, that’s roughly reversed. Just one-third (33%) are in favor, while 59% are opposed.
A plurality of political independents oppose the law, 49%, while 41% are in favor.
Debate over the law in the Iowa Legislature was intensely emotional, with several Republicans speaking against the policy, saying that it puts an arbitrary value on human life and limits Iowans’ right to a jury trial.
In the end, 16 Republican lawmakers voted against the bill — 11 in the House and five in the Senate. Just one Democrat voted in favor.
Griffith, a registered Republican who considers himself more of a political independent, said he struggles with the idea of awarding money for something that’s not easily quantifiable.
“I can see paying out for actual costs but not for something you can’t really prove,” he said.
Daly, a registered Democrat who said she agrees “70%” with the party, said if someone is injured permanently, there’s more to it than just covering their costs.
More:‘What is the value of life?’ Iowa bills to cap lawsuits pit Republicans against Republicans
“Even though they will account for loss of wages, there’s also just other things,” she said. “It’s a totally debilitating thing. I don’t really think there’s a cap on suffering for that.”
Majority of city dwellers, suburban Iowans oppose major medical malpractice caps
Ken Feller, a 61-year-old poll respondent from Battle Creek, said “the malpractice insurance for doctors is outrageous as it is.”
Feller, a political independent and truck driver, said he has a relative who is a doctor who retired in part because of high malpractice insurance rates. He said lawyers want to see big settlements because they get a percentage of it.
“Some doctor who goes into surgery drunk or something, that guy should get stuck in prison,” Feller said. “But I still don’t think the person or the family should become millionaires for it.”
Feller said mistakes can happen during surgery, likening it to the game “Operation.”
More:Which Iowa lawmakers voted for Kim Reynolds’ medical malpractice cap? Our maps lay it out
“Some of the stuff, like leaving a bandage inside a body or something, it didn’t really hurt them, it can be removed, but then they sue them for malpractice,” he said. “Is that malpractice? Kind of. But it was a mistake. Nobody did it on purpose. Why should somebody become a millionaire?”
Feller is among the 57% of residents of the 4th Congressional District, in northwest Iowa, who favor the law. It is also supported by a majority of evangelicals (60%).
The law is opposed by majorities of city (52%) and suburban Iowans (54%), and half of those in the 3rd Congressional District (50%), in Des Moines and southwest Iowa.
The Iowa Senate has also passed a bill this year that would place a $2 million cap on noneconomic damages in lawsuits involving collisions with trucks and other commercial vehicles. It has not received a vote in the House.
FAQs:How is the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll conducted? We answer your top questions.
Phil Redenbaugh, an 81-year-old poll respondent from Storm Lake and a lawyer, opposes the caps on damages in both kinds of cases because he believes they’re bad for taxpayers.
“Seriously injured people are going to need medical attention from some source,” said Redenbaugh, a Democrat. “And if that source isn’t from the tortfeasor that caused the injury, then Medicaid or the public is going to have to finance those medical expenses. And I think that’s unfortunate.”
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.
About the poll
The Iowa Poll, conducted March 5-8, 2023, for The Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 805 Iowans ages 18 or older. Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted households with randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers supplied by Dynata. Interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted by age, sex and congressional district to reflect the general population based on recent American Community Survey estimates.
Questions based on the sample of 805 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would not vary from the true population value by more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error.
Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to The Des Moines Register and Mediacom is prohibited.
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