Consumer Group: Gang of Six Plan Throws ‘Political Bone’ With Proposed Malpractice Reform

California-based Consumer Watchdog is blowing the whistle on a malpractice-reform provision within the Gang of Six’s $3.7-trillion deficit-reduction plan, deriding such an attempt as a “gimmick” meant to satisfy GOP lawmakers and their backers. If the budget-cutting proposal is passed, the Judiciary Committee would have six months to recommend legislation that would reduce entitlement spending by an “unspecified amount through medical malpractice reform.”

But according to Consumer Watchdog’s Washington director, Carmen Balber, such an effort would not cut spending in any meaningful amount but instead put patients at risk:

“Limits on liability for doctors who commit medical negligence is a political bone for the Gang of Six to throw for buy-in from Republicans, not a meaningful compromise that will provide real savings to help close the deficit. President Obama should reject this gimmick in favor of solutions that are proven to reduce the cost of medical malpractice: improving patient safety and decreasing medical errors…

“Medical liability limits are likely to increase health care spending and the national debt by burdening Medicare and Medicaid with the cost of care for patients who are injured by doctors’ mistakes but cannot hold them accountable.”

Texas’ experience with malpractice tort reform supports Consumer Watchdog’s claims. In 2003, the state capped damages from malpractice suits at $250,000 in order to control rising health care costs. Yet since the legislation went into effect, health care costs have shot up even faster, according to a study by the Public Citizen:

* The cost of health care in Texas (measured by per patient Medicare reimbursements) has increased at nearly double the national average;
* The state’s uninsured rate has increased, remaining the highest in the country;
* The cost of health insurance in the state has more than doubled.

In fact, the only improvement the Texas health care system saw was a fall in doctors’ liability insurance premiums.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that malpractice reform reform has the potential to “reduce total national health care spending by about 0.5 percent…That figure is the sum of the direct reduction in spending of 0.2 percent from lower medical liability premiums and an additional indirect
reduction of 0.3 percent from slightly less utilization of health care services.”

The CBO does acknowledge that malpractice reform could damage health outcomes, but states that most research must be conducted to assess the effect on patient care . —Sarah Bufkin