Overhauling Medical Malpractice Laws the Right Thing to Do


Malpractice changes have been ignored, for the most part, in the health care reform discussion – now there are numbers to back why this needs to be a part of the solution.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released data estimating government spending on programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would decrease by $41 billion over a 10-year period with proper reforms. The reason:  Physicians would no longer overuse tests as a way to protect themselves from lawsuits.

Changes in the malpractice system would also cut national health care spending by 0.5% a year ($11 billion in 2009). No, that doesn’t solve all the problems, but trying to fix the lawsuit-happy world we are living in is a step in the right direction.

CongressDaily reports the CBO’s analysis is based on a few reform factors such as capping noneconomic damages at $250,000 and punitive damages at $500,000. It also calculated the numbers based on a one-year statute of limitation for adults and three years for children from the time the injury is discovered.

A few senators rightly shared their support for reform (and dismay for dawdling Democrats), CongressDaily shares:

"This is an important step in the right direction, and these numbers show that this problem deserves more than lip service from policymakers," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Unfortunately, up to now, that has been all the president and his Democratic allies in Congress have been willing to provide on these issues." Hatch had requested the updated analysis from CBO.

Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn of Texas also expressed disappointment that Democrats have not cracked down on medical liability issues. Cornyn urged senators to "take account of the CBO’s objective numbers and the experience of Texas and other states where healthcare access and affordability have been improved by setting reasonable limits on lawsuits against doctors."

Democrats are reluctant to cap payouts from medical liability lawsuits. But President Obama recently directed HHS Secretary Sebelius to look at ways to make changes to the system that will bring down spending.

CBO’s analysis makes a clear argument that malpractice reform should be part of health care reform discussions. Still, supporters have their work cut out for them based on this outlandish comment:

The findings "reiterate what we’ve always known: that medical malpractice claims have almost no effect on overall healthcare spending," said American Association of Justice President Anthony Tarricone. "The vast majority of empirical evidence suggests that there are only minuscule savings to be found in reforming our nation’s civil justice system."

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