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Obama Opens Door to Tort Reform in Speech

The AP (9/10) reports that in his speech before a joint session of Congress last night pushing his ideas for healthcare reform, President Obama said “that he wants to look at a ‘range of ideas’ to ‘put patient safety first and let doctors focus on practicing medicine.’ Obama says some in Congress believe medical malpractice reform can help bring down health care costs. He says he doesn’t think it’s a ‘silver bullet,’ but that he knows that doctors practicing ‘defensive medicine’ can lead to unnecessary costs. He says he’s telling Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to move ahead with demonstration projects to see what changes would work best.”

The Washington Post (9/10, A1, Connolly, Shear) reports that Obama’s plan would “begin pilot projects aimed at reducing medical malpractice lawsuits.” Most of the article focuses on the broader issues in his speech. Deep within its analysis of the speech, the New York Times (9/10, A27, Nagourney) notes that Obama “did offer gestures across the aisle, embracing an idea from Senator John McCain of Arizona that would insure the poor against catastrophic medical expenses and endorsing some sort of medical malpractice limits that Republicans have long championed.

CNN (9/9) added, on its website, that Obama “directed his administration to set up demonstration projects in several states to move toward medical malpractice reform, throwing a bone to Republicans who have long called for tort reform to bring down health care costs. ‘I don’t believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs,’ the president said to a joint session of Congress. … Mention of the issue prompted applause from the Republican side of the chamber.”

The AP (9/10) runs a feature listing the “key points” in Obama’s speech, including a mandate for individual healthcare coverage and pressure on businesses to cover their workers, adding, “Medical malpractice reform is not a ‘silver bullet,’ but practicing ‘defensive medicine’ can lead to unnecessary costs; demonstration projects will be reviewed to see what changes to medical malpractice insurance would work best.”

Tort reform may not dampen health costs much, McClatchy analysis finds. McClatchy (9/10, Margolies) notes, “Few causes in the healthcare debate draw more support than tort reform — the idea of reining in frivolous lawsuits that lead to unjust cash awards, soaring malpractice premiums and “defensive medicine,” the unnecessary tests ordered by doctors to avoid being sued.” However, according to a McClatchy analysis, “despite the perception that ‘jackpot justice’ has fueled soaring costs, hard data yield a much different picture.” McClatchy reports that the “most reliable estimates peg the costs of malpractice litigation at 2 percent of overall healthcare costs. And while tort reform measures have helped tamp down malpractice premiums, national health spending continues to rise.” Moreover, it is not “clear that jackpot justice, as opposed to declines in insurers’ investment income, is to blame for rising malpractice premiums.” This “suggests that a tort system run amok is, at best, only a small contributor to the nation’s healthcare costs.”

From the American Association for Justice news release.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

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The title of this blog reflects my attitude toward those government agencies and insurance companies that routinely mistreat injured or disabled people. As a Dallas, Texas lawyer, I've spent more than 45 years trying to help those poor folk, and I have been frustrated daily by the actions of the people on the other side of their claims. (Sorry if I offended you...)

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