Reform may include malpractice changes

While many a medical malpractice reform has withered on the vine in recent years, a group of Democratic lawmakers and their trial lawyer backers seem determined to open up the issue again. In a search to squeeze savings from the $2.4 trillion health system, Congressional Dems and administration officials from President Obama on down are signaling that they're open to changing the med mal system.

Trial lawyers, for their part, are crying foul, arguing that medical malpractice represents only a tiny percentage of healthcare costs. They often refer to a 1999 statistic from the Institute of Medicine stating that up to 98,000 deaths in the U.S. each year result from medical error.

Observers say caps on punitive and pain and suffering awards, which former President George W. Bush attempted to push through in prior years, still don't have much of a shot. But there's more support for bills like one filed in 2005, which would have created a program allowing patients to learn of medical errors and establish a negotiated compensation package with the offer of an apology.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), meanwhile, has proposed giving states grant money to develop alternative litigation models, such as "health courts" run by judges with healthcare expertise.

To learn more about this issue:
- read this piece from The Associated Press

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