WASHINGTON, D.C. - Ardis Dee Hoven, M.D., chair of the American Medical Association, today told the U.S. House Judiciary Committee that the nation's medical liability system is increasingly irrational and needs reform. Dr. Hoven shared results from recent AMA studies that show the system has become costly and unfair for patients and physicians, and offered a proven solution to improve stability.

"Nearly 61 percent of physicians age 55 and older have been sued," Dr. Hoven told the committee during the hearing entitled "Medical Liability Reform: Cutting Costs, Spurring Investment, Creating Jobs". She shared results from an AMA report that found an average of 95 medical liability claims filed for every 100 physicians.

Dr. Hoven noted that a majority of claims filed against physicians lack merit, as 64 percent of liability claims that closed in 2009 were dropped or dismissed. These claims still come at a significant cost, as physicians and health care providers may take extra precautionary measures to avoid being sued, a practice known as defensive medicine. A 2003 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report estimated the cost of defensive medicine to be between $70-$126 billion per year. For patients who have been harmed by negligence, Dr. Hoven said that the extremely inefficient current system means a substantial amount of any compensation awarded to patients is consumed by court costs and attorney fees.

"Every dollar that goes toward medical liability costs is a dollar that does not go to patients who need care, nor toward investment in physician practices, a majority of which are small businesses that create jobs that benefit local and state economies," Dr. Hoven said. "The good news is there are proven examples of long-term reforms that have kept physicians' liability premiums stable, but more importantly have ensured and protected patients' access to health care."

"The AMA strongly supports federal liability reforms similar to those already working in California and Texas because they have proven to be effective," Dr. Hoven said. "While the total medical liability premiums in the rest of the U.S. rose 945 percent between 1976 and 2009, the increase in California premiums was less than one third of that amount at just 261 percent."

In addition to proven reforms, Dr. Hoven also told the committee that the AMA continues to support federal funding for states to pursue innovative liability and patient safety reforms including early disclosure and compensation programs, safe harbors for the practice of evidence based medicine, and health courts.

Heather Lasher Todd
AMA Media Relations
[email protected]

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