Obama Administration Takes First Steps To Address Malpractice Reform

Medical MalpracticeIn September of 2009, President Obama responded to the Republican criticism that health care reform was not doing enough to address malpractice reform by directing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to form the Patient Safety and Medical Liability Initiative, dedicated to exploring different initiatives for improving patient safety and reducing malpractice costs.

After evaluating the success of existing efforts and consulting with a seven-member panel of diverse stakeholders, the initiative announced the availability of $20 million in development grants and planning grants “to states and health care system” and yesterday, on a conference call with reporters, the group unveiled some of the applications they received and the projects that would be funded.

The initiatives eschew the most talked about malpractice reform efforts — caps on economic damages (which would require additional legislative action) or special health care costs — and instead look a lot like the kind of initiative then Senator Obama proposed to limiting both medical errors and lawsuits. For the most part, the grants focus on “reducing preventable injuries, improving communication between doctors and patients, ensuring patients are compensated more quickly,” reducing liability insurance premiums,” and determining the effectiveness of the various approaches:

The comprehensive review that we did of the literature, looking at liability reforms and patient safety efforts. The bottom line message was that we really don’t know what works and what doesn’t work and we don’t know, with reforms which have already been implemented in states — are they having the intended effect? Are they reducing malpractice premiums and the number of lawsuits? Are they improving quality and reducing preventable errors.

The new health care reform law also includes a provision that would allow for similar demonstration projects, but as the experts on the call noted, “it is authorized but not yet funded.” The hope that these projects could provide “a very solid foundation for moving forward, if in fact that provision is funded.” For a full list of what will be funded, click here.