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Consumer Watchdog Says Med Mal Limits in Debt Proposal a 'Gimmick'

INSIDEHEALTHREFORM.COM

Consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog is doubtful the Senate “Gang of Six” plan's call for medical malpractice reform would save actually money, saying “evidence suggests that malpractice liability limits are more likely to increase costs for taxpayers.” The proposal unveiled Tuesday requires the Senate Judiciary Committee to find savings through medical malpractice reform, but, unlike other provisions of the outline, leaves the amount unspecified.
 
Carmen Balber, the group's Washington director, argues that liability reform is a “political bone” for the gang of six to throw in get a buy-in from GOP members, not a meaningful compromise that will provide real savings to help close the deficit.
 
“President Obama should reject this gimmick in favor of solutions that are proven to reduce the cost of medical malpractice: improving patient safety and decreasing medical errors,” she says.
 
The Congressional Budget Office in 2009 estimated that certain tort reforms that limit non-economic damages could save 0.5 percent a year or $54 billion over 10 years.
 
Consumer Watchdog says that half of the projected savings come from expected reductions in malpractice insurance rates, but says states that implemented similar reforms did not see reduced rates. The group also argues that any savings due to projected reductions in defensive medicine would be countered by “higher health costs resulting from an increase in medical negligence.”
 
A health source familiar with physician issues argues that, given the people involved in the discussions, including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, it is “highly unlikely” that the group has non-economic damages in mind for liability reform. “It's more likely that they are asking the committees to come up with a proposal that could actually pass the Senate,” the source adds.

-- Contact the author Amy Lotven at alotven@iwpnews.com