Moving the Medical Malpractice Debate Beyond ‘Caps’

side note: Great interview of UPenn Insurance Professor Tom Baker by the Law Tribune.

CT Law Tribune

Former University of Connecticut law professor Tom Baker recently moved to the University of Pennsylvania Law School and its prestigious Wharton School of Business to teach insurance.

While in Hartford, he rose to become a national expert on the impact of medical malpractice litigation on physicians’ insurance costs — and on the costs of health care generally. In recent interviews, he has maintained that the U.S. has long experienced an epidemic of medical malpractice, but is not in the grip of an epidemic of malpractice litigation.

Several years ago, with backing from the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, Baker studied the impact of malpractice litigation on health-care costs. He found that while some highly publicized litigants hit the jackpot, the vast majority of potential claimants recovered little or nothing. In fact, he says, most of those who are hurt never sue.

In his Sept. 9 address to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama’s Republican adversaries stood and cheered at one notable point in his address. It was when he called for medical malpractice reform.

The term has multiple meanings, Baker told Senior Writer Thomas B. Scheffey. Tort reformers claim successes in states that have capped pain and suffering damages. But Baker pointed to another route – Obama’s health-care reform plan has earmarked $25 million for initiatives that would make medical practice safer, without taking away litigants’ rights to recover in the courts.

LAW TRIBUNE: Medical malpractice reform isn’t just shorthand for “caps”.

TOM BAKER: Right. And with Obama, the fact that he’s located the [grants program] in the Office of Health Care Quality, he’s linking it with patient safety. They haven’t published the official guidelines yet, but they make it clear that any sort of project [receiving federal money] will have to address patient safety and compensation.

LAW TRIBUNE: What does the term “tort reform” mean when used by opponents of the current health insurance reform?

Read the rest of the Tribune interview with Tom Baker