President Barack Obama hinted that he may incorporate some Republican tort reform proposals into the existing health care reform legislation, but warned that “bipartisanship cannot mean simply that Democrats give up everything they believe in, find the handful of things Republicans have been advocating for and then we do those things.” “There’s gotta be some give and take..and that’s what I hope is accomplished,” Obama said of the forthcoming February 25th health summit:
Let’s establish some common facts. Let’s establish what the issues are, what the problems are and let’s test out, in front of the American people, what ideas work and what ideas don’t. And if we can establish that factual accuracy about how different approaches would work then I think we can make some progress. And it may be that some of the facts that come up, are ones that make my party a little bit uncomfortable.
“If it’s established that by working seriously on malpractice and tort reform, that we can reduce some of those costs, I’ve said from the beginning of this debate, I’d be willing to work on that,” Obama said. “On the other hand, if I’m told that that’s only a faction of the problem and that’s not the biggest driver of health care costs, then I’m also going to insist ‘okay, let’s look at that as one aspect of it, but let’s do what we were going to do,’” Obama added.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has recently estimated that common Republican tort reform proposals — like capping awards for noneconomic damages — could save the federal government $54 billion over 10 years, but some progressives have questioned the budget office’s conclusion. In a letter to CBO director Douglas Elmendorf, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) argued that the new CBO report reverses years of precedent and relies on academic studies that actually undermine the savings projection. “CBO has repeatedly concluded that cost savings associated with medical malpractice reforms would be minimal and the at evidence concerning defensive medicine is ‘inconsistent,’” Rockefeller wrote, noting that the budget office has previously determined that “the effect of medical malpractice reform “would be relatively small — less than 0.5 percent of total health care spending” and would “save [only] $5.6 billion over 10 years.””
In September, Obama directed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to authorize “demonstration projects in individual states” to test various approaches to tort reform. The Senate health care bill includes money for such demonstrations.
While in the Senate, Obama also co-sponsored “legislation aimed at reducing both medical errors and lawsuits through a program known as Sorry Works, rooted in the idea that injured patients value an apology as much as money.” That legislation would have given physicians who disclosed their errors “certain protections from liability within the context of the program, in order to promote a safe environment for disclosure.“