The dire need for medical liability reform cannot be wished away. No matter the circumstance, doctors and hospitals that refuse to do expensive and wasteful tests are putting themselves in danger of lawsuits. Under the current system malpractice suits and jury rewards hinge far more on patient outcome than poor medical decision making. Many doctors who are not liable for damages would rather settle out of court than take their chances on a jury of non-medical professionals who would understandably feel sympathetic toward the injured party. The lengthy court process also keeps truly injured patients from receiving compensation in a timely manner.
We need to get lawyers out of the clinics and operating rooms where doctors should be able to focus on making the right medical decisions for their patients – not practicing defensive medicine to guard against frivolous lawsuits.
So why has medical liability reform been conspicuously absent from all Democratic health care reform proposals?
Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean had a pretty good answer at a town hall meeting last month. “The reason that tort reform is not in the bill is because the people that wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on,” he said. “And that is the plain and simple truth.”
The former physician from Vermont has a point. This week a study by the Campaign Media Analysis Group found that spending on television advertisements soliciting plaintiffs for medical malpractice lawsuits jumped from $3.8 million to nearly $62 million from 2004 to 2008. It’s also no secret that trial lawyer interest groups have lavished several million dollars of campaign cash on President Obama and other Democrats over the past few election cycles.
We cannot afford to allow trial lawyers to continue to siphon billions of health care dollars away from patient care. The time for meaningful medical liability reform is now.