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Administration's medical 'tort reform' barely noticed, save for AMA

Last Friday, the Department Health and Human Services announced $25 million in grant awards under its The HHS Patient Safety and Medical Liability Initiative, the Administration's attempt to neutralize the tort reform element in the campaign debates over health care. Whether it was the timing or the underwhelming nature of the announcement -- grants! to universities! -- the major news media barely noticed. California Health Line has a good summary of the thin coverage, some written in anticipation of the reports. (Earlier POL post.)

In a post at the White House blog, OMB health care advisor Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel took note of the support of the American Medical Association:

The grants were praised by J. James Rohack, M.D., the President of the American Medical Association who said "The AMA is pleased that federal medical liability reform demonstration projects are quickly moving forward, with $25 million in grants to state programs announced today."

Such effusive praise. The entire statement from Dr. Rohack is at the AMA website, "AMA-Supported Federal Medical Liability Grants Move Forward," and its most interesting point is the lack of any reference to damage caps, long an AMA priority.

The AMA is pleased that federal medical liability reform demonstration projects are quickly moving forward, with $25 million in grants to state programs announced today. These grants are the result of strong AMA advocacy for physicians, as we continue to work for comprehensive medical liability reform.

The AMA continues to support proven medical liability reforms working in California and Texas, as well as incentives, like those moving forward today, for states to pursue a wide range of alternative reforms including, health courts, administrative determination of compensation, early offers, and safe harbors for the practice of evidence-based medicine. AMA will work with the state medical societies to help implement these new programs so that we can learn which reforms help keep physicians caring for patients, while still allowing access to the court system.

Liability reform will help doctors implement best-practices in patient care and reduce unnecessary health costs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that medical liability reforms that include a quarter-million dollar cap on non-economic damages would reduce the federal budget deficit by about $54 billion over ten years. As our nation works to reduce the growth in health care costs, it's clear that medical liability reform must be part of the solution.

Our emphasis. What proven liability reforms might those be? Caps, of course. The Texas Medical Association campaigned for liability caps in state tort reform enacted in 2003, and regards the law as a success in controlling rates and encouraging the return of doctors to the state. California's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 also controlled medical liability costs through caps.

The AMA endorsed President Obama's plans for health care legislation over objections from many of its members. In signing on, the association has apparently euphemized its previously explicit advocacy for liability caps. Too bad.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.