State of the Union: President Obama Open to Medical Malpractice Reform

January 27, 2011 by matray

In his recent, Jan. 25, State of the Union address, President Barack Obama indicated that he is “willing to look at other ideas to bring down [healthcare] costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.” Shortly after the State of the Union, the White House Office of the Press Secretary released further clarification on its website: “Building on the deficit reduction already passed through the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, the President said his budget will include further efforts to reduce the cost of healthcare,” according to the online statement. “As part of these efforts, the President pledged to work with Republicans to support state reforms of medical malpractice systems to bring down costs and improve care—building on Administration efforts already underway to assess what works in medical malpractice reform.” The Office of the Press Secretary’s indication that the President’s support of medical liability tort reform ends at “state reforms of medical malpractice systems” indicates he is unwilling to champion any measures at the federal level, placing him at odds with the HEALTH Act, tort reform legislation introduced a day prior in the House that carries a $250,000 federal cap on non-economic damages. Those in the know understand that any tort reform efforts ultimately supported by the executive branch are likely to be similar to those pilot programs funded in the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act. As part of the Act, the Department of Health & Human Services distributed $25 million in grants to encourage states to experiment with ways to deter medical malpractice lawsuits. These demonstration projects, already underway in 21 states, have built on hospital programs in which doctors who make a mistake apologize early and try to negotiate a payment as well as screening systems in which states have formed panels of medical experts who must rule that patients’ complaints have merit before they may sue. The President has never supported caps on non-economic damages.

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