White House Offers $25 Million For Medical Malpractice Projects
The Obama administration announced $25 million in new grants for pilot programs to explore alternatives to the medical malpractice system.
"The White House rolled out a modest program Thursday examining ways to discourage frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, but what was meant as a bipartisan overture was quickly denounced by Republicans and business and consumer groups as an empty gesture," The Los Angeles Times reports. "The Obama administration said that it would offer $25 million in grants to identify practices that would reduce medical errors, scale back malpractice insurance premiums and spare doctors from nuisance litigation." Democrats have historically "opposed changes in malpractice law, protecting the interests of trial lawyers who are a major source of fundraising support. Republicans, for their part, have long sought changes in litigation practices so that employers are not hit with excessive judgments."
The announcement seemed to do little to quell GOP opposition to Democratic proposals for health reform. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate health care legislation doesn't do enough to curb "junk lawsuits," and the "U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents business interests, said the amount of money involved is too small to make a difference." Public interest groups add that the malpractice initiative is unlikely to pick up Republican votes (Nicholas, 9/18).
The Washington Post: "For months Obama has wooed the nation's doctors, ranked among the most popular professionals in the country, and it appeared the courtship was paying off. But tensions flared again this week when doctors discovered that the Baucus bill does nothing substantively to address malpractice costs and offers them only modest gains on the high-priority issue of Medicare reimbursement. 'The feeling of most doctors is that what's being proposed is not adequate,' said Peter Levine, president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia. He called Obama's $25 million in grants 'smoke and mirrors' and said Baucus refused to resolve a problem in the Medicare payment formula because it would have raised the price tag on his bill" (Connolly, 9/18).
The New York Times: "The comparatively small budget seems commensurate with the administration's level of interest in the subject. And the time frame - funding for the projects would begin early next year - suggests that any results that might lead to changes in the handling of malpractice claims would not be part of the health care overhaul under discussion now. Nonetheless, the administration's nod to malpractice liability is an unusual step, as Democrats generally have preferred to ignore the issue" (Seelye, 9/17).
The Associated Press: "The announcement Thursday follows President Barack Obama's pledge in his speech last week to take on the issue. The president said that while he doesn't see malpractice changes as a 'silver bullet,' he's talked to enough doctors to suspect that fear of litigation contributes to unnecessary costs" (9/17).
Reuters: "The trial lawyers organization quickly issued a statement saying that any malpractice change should not risk patients' right to seek justice if they are injured. 'Any changes to the malpractice system must focus on patient safety and preventable medical errors, not limiting patients' legal rights,' American Association for Justice President Anthony Tarricone said" (Zengerle, 9/17).
CNN: "Approximately 1 percent of overall health care costs nationwide are attributable to malpractice premiums, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters at the White House. It is unclear how much money could be saved by the elimination of unnecessary tests conducted due to a fear of lawsuits, she said" (9/17).
CQ Politics: "The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday introduced legislation to repeal health and medical malpractice insurers' exemption from federal antitrust laws. The draft legislation, sponsored by Patrick J. Leahy , D-Vt., would subject health insurers to antitrust regulation by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Leahy said the measure would help make the health insurance industry more competitive and potentially drive down costs" (9/17).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.