Med Mal Reform: Lip Service to a Fig Leaf of a Passing Reference

By September 17, 2009Briefly Legal, Health Care

The Washington Examiner, “Majority to Obama: Get serious on tort reform“:

Although most of his health care speech consisted of the same talking points he has been offering for months, President Obama last week offered up one surprise as he sought to make his increasingly unpopular health reform bill more palatable for the American public. “I don’t believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs,” Obama said. He added that he was authorizing Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to begin “demonstration projects” in various states to deal with malpractice reform.

HHS Secretary Sebelius, the Examiner notes, spent eight years as executive director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association.

In an interview, The Washington Post asked Secretary Sebelius about her role in promoting demonstration projects and other legal reforms. The Weekly Standard reports her response:

I think I’m just the person to do it because I think I understand the system of litigation very well. I understand that we want to, as the President has always said, compensate injured victims, but the defensive medicine is not helpful to the overall cost in the system. The best opportunity is to raise the quality of care and lower medical errors, so there are lots of strategies we can put in place.

Standard contributor Mary Katherine Ham comments: “Indeed, as I’ve consistently said, the fox is uniquely qualified to guard the henhouse, because he understands the delicious taste of poultry very well.”

The health care reform legislation released by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus yesterday also mentions tort reform. In passing. As an idea worth considering. Eventually.

The Chairman’s Mark would express the Sense of the Senate that health care reform presents an opportunity to address issues related to medical malpractice and medical liability insurance. The Mark would further express the Sense of the Senate that states should be encouraged to develop and test alternatives to the current civil litigation system as a way of improving patient safety, reducing medical errors, encouraging the efficient resolution of disputes, increasing the availability of prompt and fair resolution of disputes, and improving access to liability insurance, while preserving an individual’s right to seek redress in court. The Mark would express the Sense of the Senate that Congress should consider establishing a state demonstration program to evaluate alternatives to the current civil litigation system.

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