BY Margaret Jasper for Lawyers.comsm
President Obama's efforts to reform health care has revived the tort reform debate between the medical and legal communities. A tort is a wrongful act by one person that causes harm to another.
Under present law, an injured person can sue the responsible party and recover money to compensate them for their losses, including their medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.
Medical expenses and lost income are pretty easy to figure out. However, the pain and suffering component, also called non-economic damages, is unpredictable and often accounts for most of the money won in a lawsuit. Those who favor tort reform, such as the health care and insurance industries, would like to see a cap on non-economic damages.
Tort reform promoters also blame medical malpractice lawsuits and sympathetic juries for skyrocketing health care and medical malpractice insurance costs. They claim that doctors have to engage in defensive medical practices, like performing non-essential or duplicate tests, in order to protect themselves from frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits.
Additional changes to the current system are:
- Limit on the number of medical malpractice claims
- Replace jury trials with special medical malpractice courts that use medically-trained judges
Any health care reform bill must include tort reform.
Defensive Medical Practices
There's no question that defensive medical practices add to the high cost of health care. Those against tort reform, such as trial attorneys, argue that medical malpractice claims account for a fraction of America's health care expenses.
According to a 2004 report by the Congressional Budget Office, medical malpractice claims make up only 2% of US health costs. In addition, studies have shown no decrease in the costs of medical malpractice insurance in states that have passed limits on pain and suffering awards.
Reducing Malpractice Lawsuits
The American Medical Association (AMA) has stated that reducing medical malpractice lawsuits is an absolute must in any health care bill. Those in favor of the health care reform bill claim that this call for a tort reform provision is being made in order to confuse the public during the health care debate.
In June, President Obama addressed the AMA and told the doctors he recognized the need for them to be free from the fear of lawsuits. However, he also stated he wouldn't be proposing a cap on medical malpractice damage awards.
The Proposed Bill
Presently, there are no provisions in the existing health care bill for tort reform. Stay tuned for upcoming developments regarding the proposed legislation, and whether it will include tort reform.