Is There a Doctor in the House? (Rep. Phil Gingrey)

When someone we love brings a child into this world, we don't thank a trial lawyer for his hard work. When a family member is admitted to the emergency room after a heart attack, we don't feel relieved there was a trial lawyer close by.  And yet, unless we do something soon to fix our medical liability system, we might discover it's easier to find a lawyer in our community than a doctor.

As a practicing Obstetrician-Gynecologist for nearly 30 years, I've seen how frivolous lawsuits drive up the cost of medical malpractice insurance, forcing many doctors out of business.  Already, brain trauma patients are suffering as emergency rooms scramble to find on-call specialists or transfer patients to other hospitals. Women are forced to cross state lines just to deliver a baby or find prenatal care.  Rural communities are left without hospitals.

America is home to the finest physicians and healthcare technology in the world.  Stories like this shouldn't happen here.

Today's medical tort system is designed for lawyers, not patients.  It allows trial lawyers to file overly-expansive suits to increase payouts.  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently reported that the average award in medical malpractice cases has risen 76% in recent years. There are hidden costs, too. Doctors are forced to practice defensive medicine, ordering unnecessary tests to protect against future lawsuits.  HHS estimates defensive medicine costs us between $70 billion and $126 billion a year, raising the price of healthcare for everyone.

We need to make America's medical tort system work for America's patients.  As we've seen in California and other states across our nation, medical liability reform works.  In 2001, states without reform saw insurance premiums rise by three times as much as states that had enacted reform.

All Americans deserve the benefits of medical liability reform. This week, I am introducing the HEALTH Act.  This legislation will ensure Americans have access to physicians and emergency care, while providing for a fair and timely reparations process for those who have been wronged.

The HEALTH Act abolishes the financial incentives for filing frivolous lawsuits.  Patients will still be able to recover the full cost of economic damages, such as medical bills and lost income; those who have been wronged deserve fair compensation. But this measure would put reasonable limits on run-away non-economic damages, and does not permit punitive damages unless an actual economic judgment is rendered. The bill even maximizes patient awards by allowing courts to ensure an unjust portion of the patient's recovery is not misdirected to an attorney.

We must act now on this important legislation.  Already, many states are experiencing a crisis in access to medical care; more are showing signs of an impending crisis. Patients across America are depending on Congress to pass the HEALTH Act, before things get even worse.

Doctors who practice below the standard of care should remain liable to the patients and families who suffer as a result. But our current system puts trial lawyers above patients, and large payouts above community access to care.  We must fix our medical tort system and help give every American access to the high-quality healthcare for which America is known.

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