Unless you missed it, on Friday, July 31, 2009, the Energy and Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives approved H.R. 3200 “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act.” This bill, which will require much more work, has successfully found more consensus than opposition. It rests on a variety of reforms, most evident are underwriting practices of health insurers.
The devil is always in the details, so we can expect major debate over healthcare reform when legislators return from their August recess. Based on current healthcare spending growth rates, most reasonable Americans understand that some form of healthcare reform will be required to stem the tide of rising healthcare costs.
Healthcare communications professionals, the media and others who are following this debate are asking a number of critical questions. Will a new healthcare law reduce costs or raise costs? How will such an extensive overhaul be funded? How will the insurance industry compete against a public healthcare insurance option? Will healthcare reform harm the biomedical industry by hampering investment and innovation? How will cost containment translate into rationing, and how will Americans react to government-mandated rationing? Will the quality of physicians and care improve or deteriorate if there is a government-run system?
I have seen all of these questions raised by both sides, however, the major question I have not heard much about from either side (and perhaps I’m not listening hard enough) has to do with tort reform. There just doesn’t seem to be much rhetoric or debate around allowing doctors to practice more preventive medicine and less defensive medicine.
The point of healthcare reform is to reduce cost and improve access to quality healthcare for all Americans. An abundance of lawsuits against doctors, hospitals and insurance companies has had a massive impact on the rising cost of healthcare in this country. Yet the amount of media coverage on the issue of tort reform specifically as it relates to healthcare reform has been minimal at best.
A number of op eds have been published on the issue of healthcare reform, both for and against, and many of these have been pretty inflammatory depending upon the political stance of the writer. One of the very few op ed writers who has made a strong case for tort reform as part of healthcare reform is Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post. Now let me be clear: I don’t necessarily agree with all of Krauthammer’s opinions on the issue of healthcare reform. However, he does raise the issue of tort reform, and the need for it, in order to reduce healthcare costs. On that issue, I believe he has a point.
There does need to be legal recourse for patients in legitimate cases of medical malpractice. However, for our leaders to focus on cutting out the waste and fraud in our current healthcare system while ignoring the very real need for tort reform as part of the overall healthcare reform package is disappointing.
Why haven’t we heard more about malpractice tort reform and capping malpractice awards?
Any healthcare reform will be a hollow victory without malpractice tort reform.