Michele Bachmann reiterated her belief that uninsured Americans could receive health care through charitable organizations during two stops in Iowa last week, but added that the nation’s malpractice system is preventing providers from volunteering their services. Bachmann proposed establishing a “liability shield” to guard doctors from lawsuits:
Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman told a group of employees in Muscatine that doctors, nurses, drugmakers and others who once provided charity care are scared off today by the legal risks associated with it. The “liability shield” would allay those fears.
“Why not do that? Why not take care of poor people?” Bachmann said. “Why not make your lives cheaper and better so you don’t have to worry about health care?”
But as the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble notes, in Iowa “something very similar to such a shield is already in place,” and it’s not driving providers to offer their services for free. “The Volunteer Health Care Provider Program in the state’s Department of Public Health is designed specifically to increase volunteerism by health professionals by providing legal protections against malpractice and other claims,” Noble explains. “Doctors who enter into a ‘protection agreement’ under the program receive legal defense and indemnification for care provided to uninsured and underinsured patients.”
Malpractice costs make up a small portion of overall health care spending, the Congressional Budget Office has concluded, estimating that reforms could save $54 billion over 10 years and “reduce total national health care spending by about 0.5 percent.” In fact, if Bachmann is wondering what effect tort reform can have on access to care, she should look no further than Texas, which has the nation’s highest uninsurance rate, despite enacting comprehensive malpractice reform in 2003.