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Wayne Parsons
Wayne Parsons
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Is Obama Caving In To Insurance Companies on Tort Reforn In Health Care Negotiation?

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The AP (9/14) reports, "President Barack Obama began a week that will dwell heavily on overhauling the health care system, declaring himself confident Congress will pass ‘a good health care bill’ even though some Republican opponents were trying to kill the measure for political gain." In his Wednesday speech and again in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS’ "60 Minutes," the President "signaled he was open to so-called tort reform. Under current practice, doctors and hospitals must pay huge amounts to insure themselves against malpractice lawsuits by patients seeking large court-ordered settlements for poor treatment." Reuters (9/13, Bohan) noted that in the "60 Minutes" interview, Obama remained skeptical about medical malpractice caps.

Public increasingly backing malpractice caps. The Washington Post (9/14, Cohen, Balz) reports, "President Obama continues to face significant public resistance to his drive to initiate far-reaching changes to the country’s health-care system…to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll," but opposition "has eased somewhat." The poll also found that "GOP insistence on placing new limits on medical malpractice lawsuits finds significant public backing: Nearly two-thirds support caps on the amount of money that can be collected as a result of medical errors, with support increasing since June."

Cost of malpractice awards questioned. McClatchy (9/13, Margolies) reported, "Despite the perception that ‘jackpot justice’ has fueled soaring costs, hard data yield a different picture." In fact, "it’s not clear that malpractice awards have risen anywhere near as dramatically as tort-reform proponents insist. Nor is it clear that jackpot justice, as opposed to declines in insurers’ investment income, is to blame for rising malpractice premiums." Tom Baker, "a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Medical Malpractice Myth, theorized that having ‘a common enemy’ – trial lawyers – keeps insurance and pharmaceutical companies – the real culprits behind rising costs, he said – from fighting among themselves."

Republicans "underwhelmed" by promise of demonstration projects. The Salt Lake Tribune (9/13, Canham) reported, "While they appreciated the mention, which was met with hearty applause, many Republicans in Washington were underwhelmed by his promise of ‘demonstration projects.’ The president has authorized the Health and Human Services Department to set up a grant program for states that would focus on ways to reduce costs stemming from patients’ lawsuits against medical professionals. But these projects would fall far short of the Republican goal to place a federal cap on damages for pain and suffering."

Commentary backs pilot programs. The Boston Globe (9/13) editorializes, "President Obama was on target in his speech to Congress Wednesday when he called for pilot projects to reform medical malpractice." But "simply capping malpractice awards is not a panacea in reducing health costs." The Obama administration "should give priority to malpractice reform pilot programs that make dispute resolution part of the health delivery system."

In a blog at The Atlantic (9/13), Philip Howard wrote, "A range of malpractice reform proposals will probably be considered over the next few weeks, and it’s probably useful to catalog them, and identify the advantages of each. All of these reforms have significant merit, but special health courts are by far the most important in reducing defensive medicine. Each of the reforms can be combined with others, and it would be preferable to combine the best features of each." Howard summarizes some possible proposals.

With 200,000 Americans dying each year due to preventable medical errors and medical malpractice lawsuits shrinking to low levels, it is shocking to see the President selling out the sick and injured. See my earlier story on this subject:

Tort Reform Myth: The Legal System Causes High Malpractice Insurance Premiums

Twelve Tips To Prevent Avoidable, Fatal Medical Errors and Infections in Hospitals

by Wayne Parsons | September 02, 2009 3:47 AM