Health Care Tort Reform a Savings; GOP Seeks to Cut Deficit

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer Haberkorn, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Bolstering what's likely to be a key health care reform argument from Republicans, Congress' budget scorekeeper ruled that limiting medical malpractice lawsuits would reduce the federal deficit by $54 billion over 10 years.

The Congressional Budget Office - in an analysis that projects a nearly 10-fold increase in savings over its findings last year - said tort reform would cut costs by limiting the use of diagnostic tests and other services health care providers and doctors use to reduce exposure to lawsuits.

In explaining the increase in savings, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told lawmakers recent research has provided additional evidence that lowering the cost of medical malpractice tends to reduce the use of health care services.

Tort reform has been one of Republicans' top health care reform proposals, but it hasn't been embraced by congressional Democrats. President Obama, in his address to a joint session of Congress last month, said he would consider tort reform legislation as part of his health care plan.

I think that this is an important step in the right direction and these numbers show that this problem deserves more than lip service from policymakers, said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, who requested the analysis.

Unfortunately, up to now, that has been all the president and his Democratic allies in Congress have been willing to provide on these issues.

The analysis was not tied to specific legislation, but cited reform ideas such as limiting pain-and-suffering awards to $250,000, limiting punitive damage awards at $500,000, limiting attorneys fees and implementing a one- to three-year statute of limitation.

Such proposals would reduce national health care spending by about 0.5 percent, or $11 billion, in 2009. That includes the reduction in malpractice premiums as well as a 0.3 percent reduction in health care services spending from providers ordering procedures out of concern for being sued.

The group found that this year, health care providers will spend about $35 billion on malpractice liability, including premiums and awards.

The American Association for Justice, a trial lawyers trade group, said the news from CBO shows that there is limited financial gain and much health risk in reforming medical malpractice laws. …