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Monthly Archives: September 2009

Medical malpractice in the federal health care fray

Now that the President has opened the door to discussion of medical malpractice as part of his healthcare package, the debate rages on. Here is a recent sampling provided courtesy of the American Association for Justice (AAJ):

In an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (9/24), Minnesota lawyer Brian Wojtalewicz wrote, “Insurance and other large corporations, along with such politicians, have propagandized the claim that big verdicts are the cause of skyrocketing health care costs.” But “not only would caps on damages be cruel to those most badly harmed by malpractice, they simply don’t lower premiums for doctors.” Wojtalewicz asks, “What about a true medical malpractice crisis — the malpractice itself?” Wojtalewicz provides several examples of malpractice cases, and supporting studies.

Franklin: Federal attempts at med-mal reform misguided. In an op-ed in the Washington Post (9/24), medical malpractice consultant Cory Franklin wrote, “Medical malpractice is an imperfect process.” But “most proposed federal attempts at malpractice reform would either be unworkable or would infringe on individual states’ prerogatives to reform their systems.” Tort reform “does address one undeniable consequence of malpractice: the high cost of malpractice insurance.” But “access to specialists and exorbitant malpractice rates are primarily local problems, not national concerns. States should decide when and how to curb non-economic damages or restrict attorneys’ fees to relevel the playing field in a given locale.”

Leonhardt: Republicans can’t enact tort reform unless they negotiate. In the “Economix” blog at the New York Times (9/24), David Leonhardt wrote, “Republicans have an important point to make in the health debate: doctors do seem to practice some amount of so-called defensive medicine, out of fear of lawsuits.” But health reform “isn’t likely to include much malpractice reform unless the Republicans negotiate for it. And the Republicans can’t negotiate for it if, with the exception of Senator Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican, they have made it clear that they’re going to oppose health reform virtually no matter what.”

No-fault med-mal system recommended. In “The Stump” blog at The Oregonian (9/24), former Oregon labor commissioner Jack Roberts wrote, “Maybe it’s time to consider a more radical reform, such as a system of no-fault insurance for medical malpractice similar to the workers’ compensation system.” Such a system “would compensate any patient whose surgery or other treatment (or lack of treatment) resulted in an adverse result, whether or not the doctor, hospital or nurse was at fault. It could redirect resources currently spent finding fault to compensating patients who have been harmed. And it would recognize that even where medical providers have performed their jobs badly, large jury verdicts are not paid by the wrongdoers but shared by everyone through the insurance system.”

This week, AAJ launched an ad campaign, 98,000reasons.org, making clear that the focus of any health care reform should be patient safety, not limiting patients’ legal rights.  That campaign that has resulted in quite a few stories which include the following by DailyKos, MyDD and Huffington Post. In addition, AAJ President Anthony Tarricone published an op-ed in the Politico on the same topic which can be viewed by clicking here