Medical Liability Reform Should Be Real and Effective

Victor Schwartz

First published 2/24/11 on Kaiser Health News

In his State of the Union speech last month, President Barack Obama appeared to offer an olive branch to congressional Republicans and those who favor medical liability reform when he said, “I am willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year – medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.”

One has to commend the president for addressing the issue, but there are some problems with his statement. To find out why, just look at the Republicans’ principal medical liability legislation, H.R.5, which has been reintroduced this year in the House by Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. It does not include sanctions against frivolous lawsuits, which often take the form of court-imposed fines or penalties. And with good reason. As every competent medical malpractice plaintiffs’ lawyer knows (and defense lawyers know, too), it is very rare for plaintiffs’ lawyers to bring frivolous medical malpractice suits. The fact is most plaintiffs’ lawyers turn down most medical malpractice suits, for which preparation is cost- and labor-intensive, because they are not viable. (We do need stronger sanctions against frivolous claims, but that is an across-the-board issue. The president should support a separate piece of pending legislation, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, which accomplishes that important goal.)

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