Today's televised "summit" on health care is proving to be a new forum in which Republican lawmakers can press again for limits on medical malpractice awards, and another opportunity for the plaintiffs' bar to play defense.
At the start of the meeting, taking place about a block from the White House, one prominent Republican listed a tort overhaul as one of his party's priorities. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is third in the U.S. Senate’s GOP leadership, said there are too many “junk lawsuits against doctors.”
“In our state, [in] half the counties, pregnant women have to drive to the big city to have prenatal health care or to have their baby, because the medical malpractice suits have driven up the insurance policies so high that doctors leave the rural counties,” Alexander said.
As with the broader health care legislation, medical malpractice proposals have taken a winding path over the past year. In June 2009, President Barack Obama told doctors that “we need to explore a range of ideas” on malpractice liability. The House and Senate then approved differing provisions, both of which fell far short of what doctors and Republicans wanted.
The American Association for Justice, which lobbies for plaintiffs’ lawyers, is writing about today’s summit on a Twitter feed, and it’s focusing on the malpractice debate. The group’s response to Alexander: most lawsuits against doctors that prevail in court are meritorious, according to a 2006 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Also,” the group tweets, “more docs in TN than ever, rising faster than state’s population growth. And they are one of few states without caps [on medical malpractice awards].”
On its own Twitter feed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform touts competing evidence about potential savings from limiting malpractice awards.