Medical Malpractice's Role in Health Care Reform
side note: This article collects the opinions of four decision makers and the President of the United States on how medical malpractice insurance plays a role in the overall cost of healthcare in America. It’s important to know what the decision-makers are thinking and what their opinions’ are. This helps us plan for what could be heading our way.
PAUL KANGAS: Health care reform is the hot topic for congressional lawmakers on August recess and for their constituents. Today, the insurance industry’s lobbyist told reporters the battle over reform will be decided this month. The debate has centered on how to best cover uninsured Americans. But a key issue, medical malpractice has been largely ignored. As Stephanie Dhue reports, some doctors say it shouldn’t be.
STEPHANIE DHUE, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: For Capital Orthopaedics, apparently on the bottom line. The practice spends nearly a quarter million dollars each year on malpractice insurance premiums. Dr. Stephen Rockower says the fear of being sued also leads to defensive medicine.
DR. STEPHEN ROCKOWER, CAPITOL ORTHOPAEDICS & REHABILITATION: I order a lot of tests that I know are not going — are not really necessary, but I have to do it to cover my rear end because I’ll be criticized if, if, if something goes wrong.
DHUE: Health care reform has focused on providing insurance for all Americans and bringing down spiraling costs. But largely left out of the debate is medical malpractice reform. Neither the House nor Senate bills mention the issue. Dr. Rockower says that’s a huge oversight.
ROCKOWER: If they’re not factoring that in, then they are not really taking care of the entirely of what goes into the medical economics of running an office.
DHUE: In a speech to the American Medical Association this spring, President Obama said he wanted to work with doctors to scale back the practice of defensive medicine. But he stopped short of endorsing the group’s key solution, limiting jury awards in malpractice cases.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to be honest with you. I’m not advocating caps on malpractice awards, which I personally believe can be unfair to people who have been wrongfully harmed.
DHUE: Thirty five states have already capped damage awards and many advocates of health care reform now would rather keep malpractice a local issue. Trial attorneys and patient advocates oppose capping damages and trial lawyers contribute generously to Democratic candidates. Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics says that gives them clout.
DAVE LEVINTHAL, COMMUNICATIONS DIR., CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: When you have a group that has donated historically 75 percent, 80 percent Democrat, they’re your friends. They’re your allies and perhaps you’re going to listen to them.
DHUE: And not everyone agrees what problem malpractice reform should solve, whether it’s the high cost of premiums, medical errors or the random nature of jury awards. That makes it likely the issue will stay out of a national bill and at the state level for now. Stephanie Dhue, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, Washington.