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Obama’s Medical Malpractice Reform — The Fine Print Is Still Hazy

The Washington Post (9/11, Goldstein) reports, “When President Obama broached medical malpractice laws in his speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, it was one of the few times that Republican lawmakers stood to applaud. But the ideas the president embraced stopped considerably short of the federal limits on awards in malpractice lawsuits that the GOP and the nation’s physicians have sought for years.” The examples “the White House gave of state experiments are among a constellation of ideas that have been advocated by the Institute of Medicine, some members of Congress and a growing number of states to reduce the number of malpractice cases that reach the courts. These ideas differ fundamentally from the main way that Republicans want to revise the malpractice system: creating federal caps on the amount of money that juries and judges can award patients who win lawsuits.” The Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office “have examined whether medical malpractice issues add to health-care spending and concluded in recent years that the link is tenuous.”

Cost of “defensive medicine” debated. (9/11, Kavilanz) reports, “While there’s much debate about the actual dollar impact of this controversial practice called ‘defensive medicine,’ experts agree it’s an obstacle to reining in the medical care expenses. Defensive medicine occurs when a doctor orders tests or procedures not based on need but concern over liability.” In his speech on Wednesday, President Obama “said he has directed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to authorize demonstration projects in individual states to test malpractice reform ideas.” Yet the Congressional Budget Office “has estimated that medical malpractice costs — which include defensive medicine — amount to less than 2 percent of overall healthcare spending.”

The AP (9/10, Woodward) noted that the CBO “estimated last year that savings achieved by limiting medical liability would amount to less than 0.5 percent of health care spending. In addition, the office studied states with their own controls on medical lawsuits. It found no proof that those limits have reduced ‘defensive medicine.'”

Projects could serve as templates for reform. The Wall Street Journal (9/11, A5, Koppel, Martinez) reports that state programs to reduce medical-malpractice lawsuits offer a good model for the president given that he endorsed a related initiative of President Bush. Projects in Michigan, Minnesota, and Kentucky that encourage apologies for medical errors and those in Florida, Georgia and Illinois that require physician review of lawsuits are both cited.

Grassley says $250K malpractice cap necessary. Dow Jones Newswires (9/10, Yoest) reported that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Thursday that Obama’s speech was not specific enough, adding, “I don’t think anything would satisfy Republicans except a $250,000 [medical malpractice] cap.”

More commentary:

In her Wall Street Journal (9/11, A17) column, Kimberley Strassel says the President should push for tort reform, which could reduce overall health costs by as much as $200 billion per year.

In her blog at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (9/10), Cynthia Tucker wrote, “I know there are sometimes outrageous and frivolous lawsuits. But would so-called tort reform really bring down the costs of health care?” Tucker adds, “Another reason not to focus on medical malpractice in a national bill? Most medical malpractice suits end up in state courts.”

In the “Law Blog” at the Wall Street Journal (9/10), Ashby Jones discusses Obama’s proposed arbitration system, and asks if it would improve upon a court system.

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.

About This Blog

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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