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Federal Tort Claims Act: Information Related to Implications of Extending Coverage to Volunteers at HRSA-Funded Health Centers

GAO-09-693R Published: Jun 24, 2009. Publicly Released: Jun 24, 2009.
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The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) was enacted in 1946 and permits individuals injured by the wrongful or negligent acts or omissions of federal employees, including medical malpractice, to seek and receive compensation from the federal government through an administrative process and, ultimately, through the federal courts. The FTCA, with few exceptions, provides the exclusive means by which individuals can seek compensation when injured by federal employees acting within the scope of their work for the federal government; in effect, the FTCA largely immunizes federal government employees from tort liability, including medical malpractice. In 1993, medical malpractice coverage under FTCA was first extended to grantees of the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration's (HRSA) Health Center Program. The centers funded by this program, referred to in this report as Health Centers, are designed to increase access to primary care for medically underserved populations. While FTCA coverage is available to the approximately 1,100 Health Centers and their employees nationwide, it does not extend to health care providers who volunteer services at the 78 Health Centers currently using volunteers. The Health Care Safety Net Act of 2008 requires that GAO study the implications of extending FTCA coverage to health care providers who volunteer services to patients at Health Centers. As agreed with the committees of jurisdiction, for this report we describe (1) existing information on claims and lawsuits paid under current FTCA coverage for Health Centers, (2) existing information on the potential financial implications of extending FTCA coverage to volunteers in Health Centers, (3) how such an extension could have an impact on volunteerism at Health Centers, and (4) other selected federal and state efforts to protect health care volunteers.

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ClaimsFederal courtsFederal employeesHealth care facilitiesHealth care personnelHealth care servicesHealth centersInsuranceInsurance claimsLiability (legal)LitigationMalpractice (medical)NegligenceTortsVictim compensationVolunteer services