House Judiciary Committee looks into medical liability reform

Medical liability reform was the focus of the House Judiciary Committee's first hearing in the 112th Congress, MedPageToday reports.

Although yesterday's hearing didn't relate to any particular bill, the issue's position, as the first hearing of the year may suggest, is that the GOP is considering medical liability reform as part of a repeal and replace package.

One of yesterday's speakers, Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, chair of the American Medical Association's Board of Trustees, told FierceHealthcare that she repeated one message during the testimony. "There needs to be stability in the medical liability reform environment for physicians and most importantly their patients," she said.

Malpractice claims are proliferating. For every 100 physicians, 95 medical liability claims are filed, she testified. Most of those claims lack merit. In 2009, 64 of the claims that closed were dropped or dismissed. Yet the threat of malpractice claims drives costs up by at least $70 billion a year, because physicians are practicing defensive medicine, or ordering extra tests, to avoid being sued, she said.

The AMA supports reforms based on California's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA) that caps noneconomic damages at $250,000. MICRA allowed physicians more stable liability payments and drove costs down, Hoven said. For example, while premium costs rose 945 percent between 1976 and 2009, premiums in California rose 261 percent--less than one-third that amount.

"We know MICRA systems work," Hoven told FierceHealthcare. "It's already been piloted for 35 years now. There's no reason we should be hanging around waiting for something else to happen. Let's move it."

She sounded optimistic, noting that a health act is in the works at the federal level, based on the California legislation. "We're in a prime time for something good to happen with this," she said.

In contrast, Joanne Doroshow, a lawyer with the Center for Justice & Democracy, sounded content with current conditions. "I think the system as it is right now is really efficient," she said before the committee, according to MedPage Today.

To learn more:
- here's a FAQ from the American Medical Association
- here's the AMA press release
- read the HCLA press release
- read testimony from the Center for Justice & Democracy
- read the MedPageToday story

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