Obama's Push for Med Mal Reform

Side Note: In an effort to reform med mal in this country, President Obama’s budget includes $250 million in Justice Department grants to assist states in rewriting their med mal laws. Because med mal case outcomes can vary wildly from state-to-state, trying to establish some sort of standards and predictability across state lines is long overdue. And, the possible result of having med mal premiums decrease would be a welcomed bonus.

A major focus of Obama’s suggested med mal reform is the use of health courts to decide med mal cases. The courts’ decisions would be determined by a specialized, expert judge (as opposed to a jury), and would make awards based on an established, set schedule. Some say this is unconstitutional because it denies patients a right to a jury trial. Others, like us here at MyMedicalMalpracticeInsurance.com, applaud this effort. As physician advocates, we believe that similar cases should receive similar awards. Also, such courts would streamline the med mal trial process, saving physicians time and additional money.

The Obama money could also be used for three other types of state reform. 1) The creation of “safe harbor” laws. These laws would establish that physicians who adhere to best practices standards and the use of electronic medical records would be protected because it presumes that they are conforming to high standards of care and not acting negligently. 2) The establishment of programs that would require doctors and hospitals to immediately address errors. Under such programs, physicians and hospitals would be required to disclose mistakes promptly, apologize, offer compensation and take action to reduce the same type of error in the future. Programs like these have been shown regularly to help physicians avoid med mal lawsuits because it provides for a humanistic practice of medicine and does not “set up” a potentially contentious situation of defensive or avoidance behavior by the physician fearing a med mal lawsuit. Also, should the case still be taken to court, the physician’s apology could not be used as proof against him or her of liability. 3) The establishment of “fair share” rules. These rules would ensure that money awarded in medical liability cases would be in proportion to an individual’s responsibility for injuries. We believe all of these actions could go far in ultimately saving physicians money on med mal policies.

While all of this is good news, Obama’s reform falls short in one significant way. The money cannot be used to impose caps on jury awards in med mal lawsuits –a major necessary piece of liability reform.

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Obama Starts Drive For Medical Malpractice Reforms
by The Associated Press, posted on npr.org

WASHINGTON February 15, 2011, 06:36 pm ET

Putting his own stamp on a long-standing Republican priority, President Barack Obama is launching a drive to overhaul state medical malpractice laws and cut down on wasteful tests doctors perform because they fear lawsuits.

Obama’s budget calls for $250 million in Justice Department grants to help states rewrite their malpractice laws in line with recommendations that his bipartisan debt reduction commission issued last year.

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