With 2012 Presidential Election Cementing Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act into American Healthcare System, MPL looks for Common Ground
Last month’s 2012 presidential election was, at least in part, a referendum on the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, as it was the signature legislative achievement of President Barack Obama’s first term in office and his challenger, Mitt Romney, had campaigned on repealing the law that is expected to extend healthcare coverage to an additional 32 to 50 million Americans.
With the election firmly cementing the Affordable Care Act into our healthcare system, tort reform advocates are hoping to find common ground with the Obama Administration in order to improve the nation’s medical liability system.
“No matter how you slice it, this was a decisive win for the President, one that is certainly going to give him some momentum heading into 2013,” said Mike Stinson, director of government relations for the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA), who also noted that the Democratic Party picked up four seats in its Senate caucus and eight seats in the House of Representatives. “In terms of PIAA, we can definitely see that we have an uphill battle. The numbers weren’t good for us in the Senate to begin with, and passing any kind of [tort reform] legislation now is going to be very tricky. We’ll have to see if we take on a more defensive role in the new Congress should the trial lawyers decide to move ahead with any legislation that is clearly against our interests.
“It would be my guess that—in the House—we will have continued efforts to pass H.R. 5, the HEALTH Act. Congressional leadership is very strong on that bill, although even if the House passes it, there is little to no chance that anything will happen with that bill in the Senate.”
Among other tort reforms, the HEALTH Act would limit non-economic damages to the greater of two times the amount of economic damages or $250,000. While that is not going to be signed into law with a Democratic-controlled Senate and an Obama presidency, some are hopeful that a deal could be reached on proposals for alternative dispute resolution programs or healthcare courts, noting that in his Sept. 9, 2009, address to Congress, the President had announced an initiative to deal with the rising costs of healthcare associated with medical malpractice lawsuits.
Republicans would prefer what they refer to as “traditional” tort reforms, like those in the HEALTH Act, and have been skeptical of the sincerity behind the President’s pledge, recently writing a letter to the Department of Health & Human Services requesting why none of the monies earmarked for tort reform grants have been used to institute “traditional” medical malpractice reforms.
“President Obama, in a speech to a joint session of Congress on healthcare, directed you to move forward on an initiative aimed at reducing health care costs … pursuant to the President’s orders, the HHS, through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), awarded $23.2 million to fund demonstration and planning projects.
“Frivolous lawsuits and the high cost of malpractice insurance are dragging down our health care system. The goal of ‘traditional’ medical malpractice reforms is not to hinder meritorious lawsuits, but rather to reduce the incidence of frivolous lawsuits, inflated awards and inflated attorneys’ fees. However, the AHRQ’s description of the research being funded does not mention, much less emphasize, reforms to medical malpractice laws.”