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GOP Health Group Misdiagnoses Health Care Crisis

By Igor Volsky on February 9, 2009 at 5:13 pm

"GOP Health Group Misdiagnoses Health Care Crisis"

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courtroom1.jpgThe new Republican health study group may be interested in resurrecting Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) failed consumer-driven health care proposal or ensuring that Americans never have a choice between a public or private health care plan.

One goal is certain: this isn’t about coming up with viable policy solutions. To the contrary. This group is more interested in scoring political points and recycling trite rhetoric, than they are in lowering health care costs.

Consider Rep. Roy Blunt’s (R-MO) (he’s the group’s chair) description of the GOP’s approach to the health care crisis:

Republicans are committed to making health care more affordable, more accessible and offer more options to American families…Through this working group, Republicans will develop real solutions to improve our health care system by putting patients before paperwork and frivolous lawsuits. I am honored that the Republican Leader has asked me to lead a group of talented members who I know will be active participants in this important debate.”

To identify “real solutions,” one must first properly diagnose the problem. Blunt’s argument that “frivolous lawsuits” are significantly driving up health care costs, however, misses the point entirely.

The total cost of malpractice constitutes just 0.46 percent of total health care expenditures and settlements have grown modestly with inflation. While approximately 98,000 people die each year from negligent treatment, a mere 2 percent sue their physicians. As Maggie Mahar of Health Beat observed, “a very small group of doctors are losing or settling malpractice lawsuits, but they are losing big.” Between 1990 and 2002, “5.2 percent of doctors were responsible for 55 percent” of all malpractice pay outs.

In short, the increasing costs of malpractice insurance premiums are hurting doctors, but they’re not the real causes of increasing health care costs. And the longer Republicans obscure the real issues and obstruct reform efforts, the higher the costs will rise.

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