July 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

GOP Pushing Malpractice Reform

But Whitehouse and other Democrats were not convinced. Whitehouse responded that while many Republicans complain about massive settlements, “the settlements are massive because the errors are massive.”

Gregg conceded in an interview that while Republicans will continue to raise the issue and offer amendments, “we won’t win.” Republicans simply lack the numbers to overcome Democrats’ opposition to such reforms.

“The trial bar has an iron-clad grip on the Democratic caucus,” he said.

Some observers say the American Medical Association and other doctors’ groups could put pressure on Democrats to accept some sort of reform in exchange for their support of health reform. However, Gregg said, “Medical providers have never been able to organize enough of an offensive” to force change.

A Republican Senate aide agreed. If the reform bill includes changes to medical malpractice, it will infuriate trial attorneys. A better way to go might be to focus on changing doctors’ Medicare reimbursement rates, the aide said. Doctors have also fought to increase these rates and, unlike tort reform, there is no powerful lobby opposing that issue.

Many observers say the issue is beyond repair because it is so divisive. A former official in President George W. Bush’s administration said the issue is “one of those religious issues where everyone has taken an extreme side and fights it to the death.”

However, the White House has shown some willingness to explore the issue. Obama told AMA members in June that some medical malpractice reforms were necessary as part of health reform.

“I recognize that it will be hard to make some of these changes if doctors feel like they’re constantly looking over their shoulders for fear of lawsuits,” Obama said.

Meanwhile, the AMA is moderating its goals for reform beyond caps on damages, given Democratic control of Congress.

AMA President J. James Rohack said, “In light of the current political climate,” the group is committed to finding other ways to reform the system, including health courts, early disclosure and compensation programs, and expert witness qualifications.

But the trial attorneys’ bar opposes any changes.

Susan Steinman, the American Association for Justice’s director of policy, argued that hospitals and doctors seek additional tests to make more money, not because of the fear of lawsuits. Defensive medicine is not nearly the issue that doctors make it out to be and is more of a red herring to distract from real problems with the health care system, she said.

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