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Little progress on malpractice reform
12/7/2011
 
Hopes were high that, once in office, President Barack Obama would address malpractice reform but that seems increasingly unlikely, notes Politico in a recent update on the situation.

“It doesn’t look like anything big is going to happen soon,” Urban Institute scholar Randall Bovbjerg told the publication. “The lawyers say the system works great. The other side says it’s the worst thing since the fall of man from Eden, but if we have a little less of it, it will be fine.”

“The two sides have been arguing for years, with the Democrats accusing Republicans of siding with insurers instead of injured patients, and the Republicans saying Democrats are beholden to trial lawyers. Meanwhile numerous studies have documented ongoing problems with patient safety, as well as significant flaws in the way the legal system currently handles malpractice cases, sometimes dubbed ‘jackpot justice,’” Politico added.

The publication noted malpractice provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were limited in the first place – $50 million for expanded state demonstration projects. And Congress didn’t fund it. Nor did the administration get the $250 million it requested for fiscal year 2012 for the Department of Justice to explore alternative approaches.

House Republicans favor a $250,000 federal cap on noneconomic damages and shortening the statute of limitations, but that bill has little chance of clearing the Democrats-controlled Senate.

“What’s left are the relatively limited projects funded in June 2010 with the initial $25 million through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality – 13 planning grants of about $300,000 each and seven $3 million, three-year demonstration projects. And even that AHRQ program is on hold. The Department of Health and Human Services solicited applications for a second round of grants but ‘since Congress hasn’t funded it yet, the applications have not been reviewed,’” an HHS official said, according to Politico.

The publication quotes Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist now at the University of Pennsylvania and a former White House adviser on health policy, on what’s wrong with the existing malpractice system.

“Numerous studies have shown that the majority of patients who suffer a medical error are not compensated, while a select few win outsize awards. And on average, patients must wait nearly five years to resolve claims and receive payments from a malpractice case – six if the case is related to the delivery of a baby,” he says.