Analysis: Beyond medical tort caps

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Whether the issue of medical malpractice reform is addressed via new strategies -- like so-called health courts and "early offer"settlements -- or through repackaged, more palatable versions of older ones -- limits on jury awards -- lawmakers agreed Thursday that the status quo isn't working and the ultimate losers are the patients.
A recent study showed that more than half of scarce healthcare dollars are being eaten up by administrative costs, lawyers' fees and court costs, said members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, while the patients who are most seriously injured by medical mistake wait years for compensation, or get no redress at all.
Just months after the latest bill imposing caps on medical tort "pain and suffering" damages died a quick, unceremonious death in the Senate, committee members met to discuss yet more solutions to a problem that won't go away, hoping to meld the most workable ones into new legislation that can survive a senate vote.
However, Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, who also testified at the hearing, said health courts would force plaintiffs before administrative boards made up of potentially biased officials from the healthcare industry and would strip claimants of the legal protections of a jury and an "unbiased judge."
"Vague promises of efficiency don't equal what's taken away from victims," she said. Doroshow also argued such boards would be vulnerable to political influence. She pointed to worker's compensation boards, where she said "insurance companies get (claimants') benefits chipped away at the state level."…


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