As the administration and Congress try to hit the restart button on health care reform, its worth noting that one glaring omission from the debate has been tort reform. For all of the talk about making health care more affordable and lowering premiums and costs, it is inexplicable that this promising mechanism for cost-savings continues to be ignored by the president and Congressional Democrats.
Defensive medicine, frivolous lawsuits and multimillion-dollar jury awards in malpractice cases have helped contribute to the soaring costs of health care. President Barack Obama himself has acknowledged that defensive medicine taxes the health care system, saying, Ive talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs, yet, in an apparent self-contradiction, the president emphatically told the American Medical Association that he would not support caps on medical malpractice jury awards an effective element of tort reform that has already reduced lawsuits and brought down health care costs in the states that have implemented the caps.
Reversing course and rewriting his own narrative at a recent White House press briefing, Obama said, If its established that by working seriously on medical malpractice and tort reform that we can reduce some of those costs, Ive said from the beginning of this debate Id be willing to work on that.
Why is this pertinent? Because when House Oversight and Government Reform Committee staff recently made an inquiry about litigation costs, the presidents own Health and Human Services Department responded that malpractice litigation reform was not a priority with [the Obama] administration, so there is no further information on the topic.
When HHS says malpractice reform is not a priority of this administration, the presidents commitment to working with Congressional Republicans on a bipartisan basis seems insincere. A clarification from the administration would tell us if he truly desires bipartisan discussions or if this is just a public relations charade designed to make the American people think the White House is serious about finding bipartisan solutions.
The fact of the matter is that reining in defensive medicine can help reduce health care costs. A 2008 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that defensive medicine is a top area of wasteful spending in health care, accounting for $210 billion annually.
And according to the Congressional Budget Office, legislation providing for caps on damages would significantly lower premiums for medical malpractice insurance by 10 percent to 30 percent. California, Georgia, Texas and 36 other states provide proof that capping noneconomic damages and controlling the growth of medical malpractice lawsuits can dramatically cut liability insurance premiums, thus passing the savings on to the insured.