KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Tort Reform Back On Table In Health Care Debate

"Sparked by complaints at town hall meetings last month about the impact of medical malpractice suits on healthcare costs, a battle is brewing between business advocates and lawyers over whether to limit damages in lawsuits against physicians and other medical professionals as part of a healthcare overhaul," CongressDaily reports. The American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, "has been mounting a public relations effort to dispel what it calls the 'myth' that the fear of malpractice lawsuits accounts for astronomical healthcare costs," arguing that "GAO has found no evidence that the practice of 'defensive medicine' fueled by a fear of lawsuits has driven up the costs of medical care." Proponents of tort reform, however, "point to estimates that reducing liability and the need to practice "defensive" medicine could save more than $218 billion over 10 years" (Dann, 9/10). 

A McClatchy/The Plain Dealer analysis concludes that "the push for tort reform rests largely on anecdotal evidence of the occasional large jury verdict or outrageous lawsuit. Despite the perception that 'jackpot justice' has fueled soaring costs, hard data yield a much different picture. The most reliable estimates peg the costs of malpractice litigation at 2 percent of overall health care costs. And while tort reform measures have helped tamp down malpractice premiums, national health spending continues to rise" (Margolies, 9/9).

ABC News reports that tort reform is back on the table because Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, "the sole Republican Senator who seems inclined to support Democrats on health care reform, wants it." Snowe told ABC that she likes the proposal from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., but "said she'd like to see it include malpractice reform, which she called critical to controlling health care costs. To Democrats malpractice reform may be too a steep price to pay, but Snowe right now may be the only way Democrats get the 60 votes they need in the Senate" (Karl, 9/9).

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