President Bush Calls for Cap on Medical Malpractice Awards in Arkansas Speech
Speaking at a political stop at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock, Ark., on Monday, President Bush called for a cap on medical malpractice awards, saying that costs associated with "frivolous" medical malpractice lawsuits are driving up physicians' liability premiums, forcing many to practice defensive medicine or abandon their practices, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports (Smith/Oman, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/27). Bush added that "junk" lawsuits increase costs to taxpayers by increasing government health care costs by $28 billion each year, but he did not "define precisely" what would constitute a lawsuit without merit, the AP/Boston Globe reports (AP/Boston Globe, 1/26). "The health care system looks like a giant lottery, ... and somehow the trial lawyers always hold the winning ticket," Bush said (Sherman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/26). The president is working to revive a bill to institute a cap that the House approved last year but was stalled in the Senate. The legislation would have capped at $250,000 noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases and would have limited punitive damages to $250,000 or twice the patient's actual financial loss, whichever is higher. The bill also would have limited lawyers' fees and the amount of time patients have to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Bush's effort is part of a five-part plan for confronting the issue of the uninsured that he outlined in his State of the Union address last week (California Healthline, 1/26).
In a prepared statement, the American Medical Association praised Bush's renewed effort, saying that the United States' "broken liability system is severely jeopardizing patients' access to care" (AP/Boston Globe, 1/26). However, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) said that he is "concern[ed]" about Bush's plan because it "federalizes what has always been the right and responsibility of state legislatures to resolve," adding that it "is usually a mistake to comprehensively preempt state laws passed by state legislatures." Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) said that she agrees with Bush on the need for tort reform measures, "but only as part of a broader effort to lower health care costs," the Democrat-Gazette reports. Lincoln said that capping noneconomic damages could help reduce health care costs and improve access to care, but she added that "it's not the be-all, end-all solution" (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.