Bush calls for malpractice reform

October 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

President Bush has called for medical malpractice reform to bring down the cost of healthcare.

President Bush has called for medical malpractice reform to bring down the cost of healthcare. The plan is outlined in a report from the Department of Health and Human Services, which also details the cost of medical malpractice litigation to the U.S. healthcare system.

"It is estimated that frivolous lawsuits drive up the cost of government health programs by over $25 billion every year," Bush said in a speech at High Point University in Greensboro, NC. "It's a national problem that requires a national solution."

Bush also said medical malpractice premiums are responsible for high healthcare costs. The HHS report cites estimates that show the cost of malpractice insurance for specialists has risen more than 10% in recent years and could increase by an average of 20% or more in 2002. States without any limits on non-economic malpractice damages are experiencing the sharpest increase: 30% to 50%.

Liability solutions

To solve the problem, the president has called for several reforms, including:

•Â Improving the ability of all patients who are injured by negligence to get quicker, unlimited compensation for their "economic losses," including the loss of ability to provide valuable unpaid services like care for children or a parent.

•Â Ensuring that recoveries for non-economic damages could not exceed a reasonable amount ($250,000).

•Â Reserving punitive damages for cases that justify them - where there is clear and convincing proof that the defendant acted with malicious intent or deliberately failed to avoid unnecessary injury to the patient - and avoiding unreasonable awards (anything in excess of the greater of two times economic damages or $250,000).

•Â Providing for payment of a judgment over time rather than in one lump sum.

•Â Ensuring that old cases cannot be brought years after an event (when medical standards may have changed or witnesses' memories may have faded) by providing that a case may not be brought more than three years following the date of injury or one year after the claimant discovers (or, with reasonable diligence, should have discovered) the injury.

•Â Informing the jury if a plaintiff also has another source of payment for the injury, such as health insurance.

•Â Providing that defendants pay any judgment in proportion to their fault, not on the basis of their income.

The president cited the example of California, which passed similar reforms in 1975. Insurance premiums have risen 167% in California since the reforms were passed, compared with 505% in the rest of the country over the same period.

AMA support

The Chicago-based American Medical Association has come out in favor of the president's proposed reforms. "President Bush recognizes the high price patients pay for the liability lottery we have in America right now," said AMA President-elect Donald J. Palmisano. "The President's framework for improving the medical liability system outlined in the new HHS report offers proven, effective ways to fix this crisis, including a cap on noneconomic damages, long supported by the AMA." PR

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