President Urges Reform of Medical-Liability Law; Says Jury Awards Inflate Health Care Costs

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

President Urges Reform of Medical-Liability Law; Says Jury Awards Inflate Health Care Costs


Byline: Joseph Curl, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

SCRANTON, Pa. - President Bush yesterday declared the medical-liability system "broken" and urged the Senate to pass a nationwide limit on jury awards to reduce the skyrocketing cost of health care.

"The problem of those unnecessary costs isn't in the waiting room, or the operating room - they're in the courtroom," Mr. Bush said in a speech at the University of Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania.

"We need reform all across America and we need a law coming out of the United States Congress," he said.

With the GOP controlling both chambers of Congress, Mr. Bush is setting an agenda heavy on health care issues. With Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, a surgeon by profession, as Senate majority leader, the president expects to pass a prescription-drug package, reforms to federal health care programs and a patients' "bill of rights."

Yesterday, Mr. Bush resuscitated his plan to revamp medical-malpractice laws, which he pushed daily while on the campaign trail in 2002, drawing enthusiastic applause from Republicans at each stop.

Under his proposal, damages for actual financial losses such as wages and medical expenses would not be capped. But it would limit noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering to $250,000, and punitive damages to twice actual losses, up to a cap of $250,000. Patients' ability to file lawsuits over old cases would also be restricted and lawyers' fees curtailed.

"For the sake of affordable and sensible health care in America, we must have a limit on what they call noneconomic damages - and punitive damages," Mr. Bush said.

The president said "frivolous junk lawsuits" are driving up health care costs even when the cases never see the inside of a courtroom.

"It costs money to fight off a junk lawsuit. ... So even though there's no merit, in order just to get rid of the thing, they say, 'OK, let's just pay you,'" he said.

Although a strong states' rights advocate, Mr. Bush said the medical-liability system is different. …

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