Senators, want to protect patients? Ask Trump Health pick about this.
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This week the Senate will likely vote on the nomination of U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R.-Ga.) to serve as President Donald J. Trump's secretary of Health and Human Services. 

When we met around 35 years ago in the Emory University Hospital system, he was an orthopedic surgery resident and I was a neurosurgery resident. After those training programs, we joined or started medical practices in the same part of town.

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Eventually, life events brought about significant changes.

 

A baseball injury to my hand forced me to change careers, so I went to law school and advocated for patients as a medical malpractice attorney. Price became active in state politics, and when he was elected to the U.S. Congress, retired from full-time orthopedic surgery practice. Now we are two old guys who use our brains more than our hands.

I want to encourage Price to prioritize patient safety and accountability from physicians and providers in his new position as HHS secretary. Such an emphasis will both improve the quality of care in our medical delivery system and significantly reduce the overall costs.

As HHS secretary, Tom has two big projects ahead of him.

The first one is already underway: The repeal of Obamacare and its replacement with Trump-care. 

At this point, no one knows what Trump-care will ultimately look like. But politics demand that it must preserve four key ObamaCare innovations that Americans want to keep.

First, there must be protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. Health care is a right, not a privilege, and no one should be denied coverage because they are sick.

Second, there must be portability of coverage. In the world of frequent job changes, people who make geographic or employment moves need to be able to retain their coverage at a reasonable cost. The trap of “job lock,” where workers are unable to leave their companies for fear of losing coverage,s must be eliminated.

ObamaCare created the freedom to leave a job and hunt for a better one. Trump-care must retain this crucial protection for workers with pre-existing conditions and partner with entrepreneurs to develop lasting solutions. 

Third, policyholders should continue to be able to insure their children through age 26. 

And fourth, coverage must be available to all. This is a complex issue, the details of which are not yet well defined, but we cannot afford for anyone to be left behind.

Price’s second big job is to help design and implement a system that delivers quality health care in an affordable way, while at the same time incentivizing physicians and hospitals to work within such a system.

As this design process begins, Price and other policymakers must support safety reform, not tort reform. Tort reform legislation keeps doctors and hospitals from investigating and preventing medical errors and makes them less accountable. We need safety reform to ensure that patients get the best and safest care possible.

The airline industry learns and improves from their errors. Why not the medical profession?

Medical malpractice is real. It ruins and even takes lives.

When doctors and hospitals talk about tort reform, they are not talking about defending doctors from “frivolous” lawsuits. The exorbitant costs of bringing a case makes frivolity impossible for the patient or the attorney.

Less than half of 1 percent of health care costs are related to medical negligence claims. By promulgating safety reform, we can save that amount many times over and reduce overall health care expenses. 

According to a recent study from Johns Hopkins researchers, mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer. There is no way the current docket of malpractice suits reflects this appalling statistic.

Capping awards and granting more immunity does nothing to protect patients. In fact, it takes away their basic constitutional rights to a fair resolution of an injury. The medical community should reject tort legislation and embrace a serious patient safety and accountability system.

Despite the promises embedded in the title of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the systems created by the ACA have produced unintended failures. This has resulted in massive premium increases and upset American voters.

As Dr. Tom Price teams with President Trump to reform our health-care system, patient protection is a promise he, and indeed all of us, must strive to keep.

Lawrence Schlachter is a board-certified doctor and attorney, and the author of “Malpractice: A Neurosurgeon Reveals How Our Health-Care System Puts Patients at Risk." He first met Tom Price when they were both in residency at the Emory University Hospital system.


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