Gingrich Calls for ‘Health Court System’ To Curb Rising Medical Malpractice Insurance Premiums
A new "health court system" is the only solution that would be "fair to all sides" in resolving the "calamity" of rising medical malpractice rates, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) writes in a USA Today opinion piece (Gingrich, USA Today, 8/13). According to a recent American Medical Association report, the cost of medical malpractice insurance has reached "crisis proportions" in 12 states and is approaching such levels in 30 additional states, "forcing" many physicians to abandon their practices. The report found that annual malpractice costs in many states were as high as $200,000 or more for physicians in certain high-risk specialties such as obstetrics and surgery (California Healthline, 6/18). According to Gingrich, trial lawyers "are at the heart" of the problem because medical malpractice attorneys can earn up to 60% of jury awards in excess of $1 million, contributing to "skyrocketing" medical malpractice rates. Even if doctors avoid closing their doors, their patients still suffer, because "doctors' costs are passed to patients," Gingrich writes. He adds that physicians' "[f]ear of litigation" may prompt them not to report mistakes and to practice "defensive medicine" by ordering excess tests and procedures, all of which negatively affect costs, productivity and patient care.
Gingrich states that while legislation implementing caps on noneconomic damages would be a "step in the right direction," what is ultimately needed is a "new system of medical justice." One solution would be to create a new U.S. health court system -- similar to other "specialized" courts like patent courts or family courts -- in which the judges are non-practicing doctors or have medical training, he writes. Under such a system, Gingrich says, judges could "objectively determine whether legitimate malpractice has occurred" and lawyers would not be able to "manipulate the emotions" of the judges "as they now do with jurors." Gingrich concludes, "A system of health courts could help everyone in America -- everyone, that is, except greedy lawyers" (USA Today, 8/13).