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Wayne Parsons
Wayne Parsons
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Medical malpractice reform debated.

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The Buffalo News (8/22, Zremskie) reported, "Dr. Richard Vienne of Amherst (NY) and many of his colleagues nationwide say there’s one thing missing from the great debate over health care reform: any effort to ease the minds of doctors so they wouldn’t keep wasting money on tests out of the fear of getting sued." In the 1,000 pages "of H.R. 3200, the main version of the health reform bill, medical malpractice reform remains the Great Unmentioned. That fact has repelled Republicans and others who maintain that reform will be incomplete and way too expensive without a cap on jury awards in malpractice cases." But "Democrats and academic experts counter with strong evidence indicating that malpractice reform would not save any money, and with the argument that curbing lawsuit awards would be deeply unjust to those injured by their doctors."

Democrats’ stance on tort reform said to result in campaign contributions. US News Weekly (8/21, Garber) reports, "Healthcare town hall protesters bring it up constantly. So do many doctors. Democrats, for the most part, refuse to go near it. The issue is the cost of ‘defensive medicine’ — basically, doctors ordering extra (and arguably unnecessary) tests to protect themselves from costly lawsuits." US News adds that "supporters say limits on big payouts would ease doctors’ worries about costly lawsuits and curb unnecessary tests," but tort reform "is viciously partisan and heavily lobbied." Plaintiffs’ lawyers have "generously given to Democratic campaigns, including President Obama’s."

Law profs. propose solution. In an op-ed in the Washington Times (8/23), David A. Hyman of the University of Illinois and Charles Silver of the University of Texas at Austin wrote, "A more fundamental problem is that damages caps don’t do much to improve the quality of care that is being delivered. There is plenty of evidence that the quality of American health care isn’t what it should be – but providers receive the benefits of a damages cap whether they have made great effort or no effort to improve the quality of services they are providing. If we want to actually improve the quality of American health care and help ensure that we obtain value for the roughly $2.5 trillion per year we are spending, we should take five concrete steps." The authors advocate increasing noneconomic damages in cases where insurers have not reported errors "in a timely manner," but "that physicians who practice high-quality, cost-effective medicine are not subjected to the tender mercies of the tort system."

WTimes: Reform necessary. The Washington Times (8/23) editorialized, "Plaintiffs’ attorneys better watch out." Bob Beckel, "uber-Democrat and manager of Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign" and Sarah Palin both agree that medical malpractice awards should be capped. Palin also "recommended limiting lawyer contingency fees, adopting a ‘loser pays’ rule for attorneys’ fees and requiring higher standards for ‘expert’ medical testimony in court cases." The Times argues, "All of these reforms, and more, would help keep medical costs lower while improving fairness and service delivery to patients. If doctors, insurance companies, drug companies, small businesses and individuals who choose not to buy insurance all must contribute something to the cause of health care reform, so too should the lawyers who make out like bandits under today’s system."