Tort reform needed in health care reform debate

September 4th, 2009 by Perry

Lex Taylor, Chairman of Mississippians for Economic Progress, has authored a piece on the necessity of tort reform as a component of health care reform.  Here are some excerpts:

Don’t take my word for it. Democrat Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus wrote in a health care reform paper, “Careful reforms of medical malpractice laws can lower administrative costs and health spending….A serious effort at comprehensive health care reform, then, should address medical malpractice.” Baucus argues tort reform would lead “to improved patient safety” and move physicians “away from the costly practice of defensive medicine and toward the best quality care.”

Before our reforms, Mississippi witnessed a decrease in available medical care because malpractice insurance rates discouraged new entrants to the medical field, encouraged seasoned physicians to seek early retirement, and made specialty practices (like OBGYNs) cost prohibitive. Following the passage of the Mississippi Tort Reform Acts of 2002 and 2004, the frequency of medical liability litigation diminished and Mississippi’s largest medical liability carrier reduced premium rates and issued premium refunds in the double digits annually. Mississippi, like other states that limited noneconomic damages, witnessed insurance premiums plummet and doctor shortages dissipate.

Physician shortage is a real threat to America’s health care. The Association of American Medical College predicts a doctor shortage of 124,400 by 2025. If you believe there are 46 million Americans currently unable to receive medical care that will enter the health care marketplace with President Obama’s reforms, then you can agree we will need more physicians or we will all face severe shortages. Medical malpractice reform opens the door to more doctors. Without tort reform, we’re sure to see patient lines getting longer.

Civil litigation reform can improve the climate of health care practice in America as it did Mississippi. Doctors practice less defensive medicine thus lowering overall industry costs. Patients and doctors have improved patient relationships. Lawsuit abuse no longer pushes doctors into early retirement removing valuable experience and expertise from the medical field. More doctors mean greater choice, opportunity and patient access.

A fair health care reform bill should consider federal limits on non-economic and punitive damages, limits on lawyers’ fees, elimination of joint liability to ensure only those at fault pay, shorter statutes of limitation, mandatory pre-litigation filings, and “safe harbors” for doctors in compliance with the same protocols required in government backed coverage.

We cannot sue our way toward lower health care costs. Tort reform will lower health care costs, reduce waste, enhance the quality of care, encourage new doctors to address patient access, and increase choice and competition. Health care reform without tort reform is no reform at all.

You can read the full column online at the Madison County Journal: Taylor / Tort reform critical to health reform

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