Keep The Champagne On Ice
September 10, 2009
In his bid to appear as a moderate reformer rather than a radical advocate of socialized medicine, President Obama last night in his speech to Congress offered an olive branch to the legions who believe that tort reform is essential to controlling health care costs. Actually, it was more like an olive twig:
“I don’t believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs.”
May be contributing? To test the possibility that fear of lawsuits is driving doctors to prescribe needless, but expensive tests and procedures, President Obama courageously called for …. a “demonstration projects” in a couple of states.
Actually, the proposition has already been adequately demonstrated in many states. Consider two: In Massachusetts, 83% of physicians polled by the Massachusetts Medical Society said they had practiced defensive medicine to avoid litigation. According to the survey, one out of every eight patients hospitalized and 18% to 28% of tests, procedures and referrals were ordered out of fear of being sued. The cost: $1.4 billion a year in Massachusetts alone. In Texas, which adopted medical liability reform, liability insurance premiums for doctors have fallen by 27%. See my earlier post.
President Obama’s seeming embrace of medical liability reform was a clever politicians’ feint that signaled to the legal profession (which funneled over $43 million to the Obama campaign) that nothing is really going to change. Howard Dean was far more candid when he admitted “the plain and simple truth” that Congress shunned medical liability reform in deference to the powerful trial bar.
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor writes in The Hill that personal injury lawyers spent $62 million on teaser TV ads soliciting plaintiffs for malpractice cases in 2008 – an increase of over 1,500% from 2004. Sure sounds like a lot – until you consider lawyers spent over $126 million in 2008 to elect member of Congress dedicated to keeping the litigation mills running.
Those mega-millions buys a lot more influence than all the academic studies and doctor surveys that demonstrate beyond any doubt the baleful effect the trial lawyer-litigation complex has on our health care system. Which is why tort reformers should keep the champagne on ice despite President Obama’s assurances that he plans to do something about the cost of defensive medicine.