New bill aims to cut losses from defensive medicine

A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress seeks to reduce healthcare costs and improve patient care by offering doctors who treat Medicaid and Medicare patients a safe harbor from medical malpractice litigation, The National Journal reported. The bill will create evidence-based, doctor-developed practice guidelines and appropriate-use criteria that can be used by defendants in medical malpractice actions, Senior Housing News noted.

The Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act of 2014 is the brainchild of a doctor and a lawyer, U.S. Representatives Ami Bera, M.D. (D-Calif.) and Andy Barr, J.D. (R-Ky).

Seventy-five percent of America's doctors will face a malpractice claim, the Journal reported. Many practice defensively in view of this threat. They order needless tests and procedures despite evidence that doing so isn't best for patients, the article stated. And insurers wind up paying for wasteful healthcare services.         

Prior legislation meant to reduce the rampant practice of defensive medicine died in Congress; yet reforming a system that fosters this practice may lower healthcare costs by up to $64 billion in the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office found.

"Our bill will lead to better, more affordable, and evidence-based patient care by removing the need for physicians to worry about practicing defensive medicine, instead of allowing them to focus on their patients' actual needs," Barr said in a statement.  

The bill won support from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Healthcare Leadership Council, the Journal reported.  

And research supporting possible benefits of this model appeared in a recent Bloomberg View column by Peter R. Orszag, former director of the Office of Management and Budget.

"The core problem with the medical liability system is that doctors are evaluated by the standard of 'customary practice,' defined as what doctors typically do," Orszag wrote. "Customary practice, however, might not reflect the best medical science. Capping damages for medical malpractice can do little to solve this problem, but changing the standards against which doctors are evaluated would."

For more:
- here's the bill, H.R. 4106 (.pdf)
- read the National Journal article
- see the Bloomberg View column
- here's the Senior Housing News article