President Obama, speaking to House Republicans at their policy retreat in Baltimore Friday:
From the start, I sought out and supported ideas from Republicans. I even talked about an issue which has been a holy grail for a lot of you, which was tort reform, and said that I'd be willing to work together as part of a comprehensive package to deal with it. I just didn't get a lot of nibbles.
Beyond talking, the Administration's nod to medical liability reform is a Health and Human Services program of demonstration grants to states, the Patient Safety and Medical Liability Reform Demonstration announced Sept. 17, 2009. (Presidential memo, and White House fact sheet.)
HHS's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is running the $25 million grant program. The panel called to provide input on the process, the Patient Safety and Medical Liability Reform National Advisory Council Subcommittee, held a little-reported meeting on Oct. 26, and the deadline for submitting grants was Jan. 20.
Is this a serious effort to bring exorbitant legal costs of medical care under control? Reading through the online materials, we find this, "Clarification and Update Notice for AHRQ Medical Malpractice Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs): RFA-HS-10-021 and RFA-HS-10-022":
The Research Objectives Section in both FOAs currently provide background information and descriptions in the areas of 1) Patient Safety and Risk Management and 2) Medical Liability. This Notice clarifies that AHRQ requires all applications for both of these FOAs to address both of these two areas in order to be responsive to the FOAs. Applications that do not address both patient safety/risk management and medical liability will not be considered responsive, and will not be reviewed by AHRQ.
So don't bother making straight-forward tort reform proposals like limiting non-economic damages.
AHRQ says peer review will take about four months, with the grants to follow four months later. That schedule puts us into the early fall, i.e., campaign season, and will give candidates an opportunity to say things like, "The Administration actually proposed health care tort reform."
(Hat tip for the President's statement, Philip Klein.)