By Alexander Bolton - 01/26/11 04:44 AM EST
Senior Senate Democrats are highly skeptical of President Obama’s call for medical malpractice reform during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
In one of several instances of Obama reaching out to Republicans and moving to the political center, Obama pledged to pursue tort reform as a way to improve the healthcare reform law.
“I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits,” Obama told members of the Senate and House.
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he could only support such reform if it was part of a broader package of legislation that included other fixes, such as a controversial proposal to strip insurance companies of anti-trust exemptions.
Leahy also said that medical malpractice reform must accompany a crackdown on incompetence in the medical industry.
“If we have the medical community themselves start to clean house,” Leahy said. “You have too many of these cases where you find the medical society protected an incompetent doctor for years.
“Also if you do away with the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies, especially the insurance companies that set fees for malpractice, huge fees in states where there’s almost no malpractice recovery,” Leahy added.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference and a member of the Judiciary panel, said healthcare cost-cutting is on the table but declined to embrace the call to advance medical malpractice reform.
“I’d have to look at the details,” Schumer said, before quickly flipping open his cell phone to begin a call.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said, “I’m all for weeding out frivolous lawsuits but how you do that is incredibly important.”
“You have to look at the whole thing, I don’t think this is an easy, simple solution,” he added.
Menendez said most trial lawyers, an important constituency of the Democratic Party that donates millions of dollars to its candidates, would agree that frivolous lawsuits should be curbed. He said the challenge is defining which suits are frivolous.