Health Law

Obama Hints at Med-Mal Tort Reform, But Cutting Awards May Not Be Answer


Although he made no specific promises, President Barack Obama suggested in a speech yesterday at a Chicago meeting of the American Medical Association that his administration may support some type of medical malpractice tort reform as part of a national program to improve health care services.

Appealing for physicians’ support of his health care legislation, the president promised to “explore a range of ideas” to free doctors from the fear of patient lawsuits and thus reduce the so-called defensive medicine promoted by health care providers’ litigation concerns, Bloomberg reports.

However, one expert says cutting medical malpractice awards—which were estimated at about $3.6 billion annually in a 2005 study—would do little to reduce the $2.3 trillion yearly cost of health care in the United States.

“Medical malpractice dollars are a red herring for the system’s failings,” Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard University economist, tells the news agency. “No serious economist thinks that saving money in med mal is the way to improve productivity in the system. There’s so many other sources of inefficiency.”

Meanwhile, at least one trial lawyers’ association says it is not necessarily opposed to some of the president’s ideas, including more reliance on “evidence-based guidelines,” reports the Blog of Legal Times.

Any effort at reform should focus on safety improvements needed to help the nearly 100,000 people who are estimated to die each year due to medical errors, says Les Weisbrod, president of the American Association for Justice. “Empirically based practice guidelines, developed by independent experts, is an idea we can support, as long as it does not lower quality or standards of care,” he tells the law blog in a written statement.

Additional coverage:

New York Times: “Obama Open to Reining in Medical Suits”

Wall Street Journal (opinion): “Obama’s Malpractice Gesture”

Washington Post: “Morning Fix: Six Senators To Watch On Health Care”

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